UK stocks pushed modestly higher in early trading on Wednesday, with the FTSE 100 up 15.3 points, or 0.26%, to 5,973.83 as coronavirus hit countries continued to take tentative steps to reopen their economies and Google-owner Alphabet posted better-than-expected sales.

Banking behemoth Barclays (BARC) bounced 6% to 103.6p despite a sharp fall in first quarter profit as a $2.1bn credit impairment charge due to the impact of COVID-19 offset higher income.

Barclays also warned that ‘due to the lower interest rate environment and macroeconomic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barclays UK, and consumer, cards and payments income headwinds are expected to continue for the remainder of the year’.

However investors welcomed Barclays’ insistence that ‘a return on tangible equity (RoTE) of greater than 10% remains the right target for the group over time’.

Standard Chartered (STAN) skipped 5.1% higher to 409.6p, despite posting a 29% slump in first quarter profits owing to a significant rise in credit impairments linked to the COVID-19 crisis, as chief executive Bill Winters assured ‘the work we have done since 2015 to secure its foundations gives me confidence that we can come through the crisis with strength.’

Clothing retailer Next (NXT) cheapened 46p to £47.40 as first quarter sales slumped 41%, a steeper decline than feared at the time of its March stress test.

Next also suspended dividends and cancelled its share buyback to conserve cash during the pandemic. The reassuring news is that even in its worst scenario, Next believes it can operate comfortably within its cash resources and will end the year with less net financial debt than at the end of last year.

Phone and electronics retailer Dixons Carphone (DC.) rallied 12.4% higher to 77p as it ditched its full year dividend to conserve cash and reported a 166% surge in UK & Ireland online sales for the 5 weeks to 25 April, partially offsetting lost sales due to store closures.

Drugs giant AstraZeneca (AZN) added 1.5% at £83.13 after it posted a rise in first quarter revenue boosted by sales of new medicines and assured it is evaluating drugs to curb the health impact of the coronavirus.

Advertising giant WPP (WPP) was marked up 3.5% to 611.2p after announcing it has made some permanent headcount reductions, even as first quarter revenue slipped 4.9%.

Insurer Hiscox (HSX) softened 3.25% to 708.8p on confirming media speculation that it is considering an equity raise to help it weather the COVID-19 storm.

Information, data and analytics play Ascential (ASCL) powered 9.8% higher to 253.8p after agreeing more lenient debt covenants with lenders to support its balance sheet and announcing further measures to cut costs, including a 25% cut to director salaries and fees.

First quarter revenue grew 5.1% despite performance being impacted by the deferral of events to the second half of the year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fuel, food and animal feed distributor NWF (NWF:AIM) surged almost 15% higher to 189.5p after forecasting a substantial improvement in performance, with the coronavirus crisis having increased demand for food and the falling oil price helping customers in its fuel business.

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Issue Date: 29 Apr 2020