London’s FTSE 100 traded 1.65% lower on Friday at 6,109.18 as geopolitical tensions between the US and China offset any positive sentiment generated from the news UK retail sales bounced back 13.9% in June as lockdown measures were eased.

US-Sino relations hit a new low after China ordered the US to shut a consulate in Chengdu, in retaliation for being ordered to shut a consulate in Houston.

Energy giant Centrica (CAN) surged 22% higher to 49.2p after agreeing to sell North American business Direct Energy to NRG Energy for $3.625 billion, with the proceeds earmarked for debt reduction and to contribute to the British Gas owner’s defined benefit pension schemes.

Investors were also encouraged as Centrica reported narrowed first-half losses and said it expected a recovery in energy demand to continue into the second half of the year.

Chief executive Chris O’Shea said his charge had delivered ‘a resilient performance against the unprecedented backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis during the first half of the year. Our mission now is to turn around the company by putting customers at the heart of everything we do and creating a simpler, leaner, more modern and more sustainable company. The sale of Direct Energy is a fundamental step towards this.’

Mobile phones network giant Vodafone (VOD) cheapened 3.5% to 124.3p after it reported a 1.4% decline in first-quarter revenue, citing impacts from the COVID-19 crisis.

Vodafone said it still expects its annual adjusted operating earnings to be flat or slightly lower, although an initial public offering (IPO) of the Vantage Towers infrastructure business remains on track for early 2021.

Plumbing and heating supplies company Ferguson (FERG) firmed 1.6% to £69.83 on reporting that its performance had steadied in the fourth quarter as lockdown measures eased. For the period from 1 May to 21 July, Ferguson’s revenue fell 3.6% versus a 15.3% fall in April.

Educational publisher Pearson (PSON) slipped 5.1% to 522p, despite posting a rise in first-half profit, as the company said it remained difficult to predict the ultimate disruptive impact of the pandemic on its performance for the full year.

Posh chocolates maker Hotel Chocolat (HOTC:AIM) sweetened up 3.6% to 290p on news digital growth remains very strong and sales in the second half of the year to June only fell 14% overall.

That was despite more than 70% of sales usually coming from physical stores which were all closed for Mother’s Day and Easter. Hotel Chocolat’s board remains ‘confident in the resilience of the brand, and the potential for growth and success in the future’, albeit mindful there is less visibility than usual ‘given the uncertain severity and duration of the COVID-19 impact’.

Investors toasted online wine purveyor Naked Wines (WINE:AIM) on news sales surged up 67% in June, bringing growth for the first quarter to a palate-pleasing 77%. ‘The board continues to believe that Naked is ideally positioned to be a long-term winner from the inflection in consumer demand for online wine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said the retailer.

Unloved fashion retailer French Connection (FCCN) rallied 74% to 8.75p after it started seeing a revival in sales, having reopened its physical stores on 15 July. French Connection said sales remained low, though it was seeing a gradual week-on-week improvement.

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Issue Date: 24 Jul 2020