UK stocks were mixed in early trading despite a positive session on Wall Street and a rebound in oil prices. The FTSE 100 index traded down 0.1% at 5,765 points while the FTSE 250 index of medium-sized stocks gained 0.9% to 15,727.

Weighing on the main index was food and household goods giant Unilever (ULVR) which lost 5.5% to £40.11 after it reported flat sales of €12.4bn in the first quarter and confirmed the June dividend.

While sales were flat on an underlying basis, with volumes slightly higher and overall pricing slightly lower, demand for hygiene, home products and in-home foods saw a marked upswing in developed markets.

However, sales of out-of-home food such as Magnum ice creams were lower and the firm withdrew its financial guidance for the year, which appeared to spook investors.

Shares in catering firm Compass (CPG) were also weaker, dipping 0.9% to £13.03 after it delivered a slight increase in underlying revenue growth and cancelled dividend payments in order to save cash.

In the six months to 31 March, sales grew by 1.6% - towards the top end of its 0% to 2% target range – even though half of the firm’s businesses were closed due to lockdowns.

In a trading update for the period from 1 January to today, house builder Taylor Wimpey (TW.) reported an increase in demand for its homes despite its sales offices being closed. As of last week, its order book was £2.68bn against £2.4bn a year ago.

The firm also said it would begin a phased re-opening of all its construction sites in England and Wales from early May observing social distancing. Shares added 6% to 143p.

Rival builder Vistry (VTY) announced that it would re-open almost all of its partnership sites and housing sites from next week, while also seeing an increase in net reservations of new homes. Shares gained 6% to 44.75p.

Aerospace and defence contractor Meggitt (MGGT) climbed 6% to 63p after it reported a 5% increase in underlying first quarter turnover, with strong growth in defence more than offsetting weaker demand in civil aerospace and energy.

To counter the fall in demand the firm has made ‘material cuts’ in operating costs, frozen hiring and cancelled the dividend, all of which will help to reduce cash outflows by between £400m and £450m this year.

Specialty chemical-maker Croda (CRDA) edged up 0.5% to £47.83 after it unveiled a solid first quarter performance, with turnover in line with the previous year and with management expectations, and its order book ‘in line with normal circumstances.’

It also confirmed that, thanks to its solid financial position and low leverage, it would honour the final 2019 dividend of 50.5p per share.

Sofa seller DFS (DFS) rallied 17% to 151p after it was able to raise roughly £64m in a share placing at 150p, a 16.3% premium to last night’s closing price of 129p. The new shares represent close to 20% of the firm’s previously issued capital.

Shares in luxury car maker Aston Martin Lagonda (AML) accelerated 4% to 50p after it announced it would re-open its St Athan plant early next month with the Gaydon plant to follow at a later date.

As well as reducing costs and applying for financial support from the government, the firm said new owner and executive chairman Lawrence Stroll would get a nominal salary of just £1 per year.

 

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Issue Date: 23 Apr 2020