UK stocks pushed slightly higher in early trade on Wednesday as investors continued to weigh the risk of a further surge of COVID-19 cases as lockdowns are eased in disease hotspots. The FTSE 100 was up 8.9 points to 5,858.31 early on.

In corporate news, online food delivery firm Ocado (OCDO) ripened up 2.4% to an all-time high of £17.20 on news sales at its retail joint venture with Marks & Spencer (MKS) have surged 40% so far in the second quarter, thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns sparking a surge in demand for home deliveries.

Ocado also said it has delivered its first international customer fulfilment centres, to partners Groupe Casino in France and Sobeys in Canada.

Free-to-air commercial broadcaster ITV (ITV) improved 3.4% to 74.6p despite reporting a 42% plunge in advertising revenue for April caused by COVID-19 and pulling guidance for the remainder of the year given the uncertain outlook.

Investors were relieved as ITV insisted it has good access to liquidity and outlined decisive actions to reduce costs.

Sportswear retailer JD Sports Fashion (JD.) cheapened 2.8p to 502.4p after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked the company’s £90m takeover of Footasylum.

The CMA has ruled that Footasylum, which has been operated as a standalone business through the CMA regulatory investigation, will need to be sold and has prohibited JD Sports from owning the business.

JD Sports is now considering whether to pursue an appeal against the decision, arguing that the CMA has failed to properly understand the competitive trends in the industry, particularly at a time when the pandemic is expected to weigh on retailers.

Car parts-to-bicycles seller Halfords (HFD) accelerated 10% higher to 127p on news of an improved liquidity position, buoyed by better than anticipated trading since its last update in March and driven by a strong performance in cycling.

Results for the year to 3 April 2020 were boosted by better than expected sales in the final weeks of the financial year during the lockdown period and Halfords now expects adjusted profit before tax will be at the upper end of its previously guided £50m-to-£55m range.

Greetings cards-to-gifts retailer Card Factory (CARD) rallied 7.1% to 41p even as it pulled its dividend, having closed stores and furloughed most workers due to UK government lockdowns.

Investors welcomed the board’s confidence that the retailer has access to sufficient liquidity, even in the event of a prolonged store closure period, as well as news of significant growth in online sales.

Bus and train operator National Express (NEX) nudged 1.5% higher to 241.6p after it insisted it has acted ‘swiftly and decisively’ to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, taking significant cost-cutting measures, and launched a share issue to cut debt and strengthen its balance sheet to weather the COVID-19 storm.

Virgin Money UK (VMUK) advanced 6.9% to 76.2p after posting only a modest first half loss, as impairment charges were pushed up by the coronavirus crisis.

Metro Bank (MTRO) was marked down 4.3% to 83p after reporting a dip in lending in the first quarter and warning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on customers was difficult to predict with any certainty.

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Issue Date: 06 May 2020