After making a strong start amid optimism over the US stimulus plan, the UK’s leading basket of stocks lost momentum by lunchtime as investors wait to hear what Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen will say later today on stimulus and the dollar.

Reports suggest Yellen will call for the US to ‘act big’ on stimulus measures and voice strong support for Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, with the former Fed chair reportedly set to say that ‘with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big’.

By 12.30, the UK’s benchmark FTSE 100 index dipped marginally into the red, down 0.045% to 6,717, while the midcap FTSE 250 index edged 0.069% lower to 20,625.

CORPORATE NEWS

In company news, credit data provider Experian (EXPN) ticked up 0.2% to £26.85 after it reported a 10% increase in third-quarter revenue as stronger growth in North America and Latin America helped offset weakness in UK and Ireland.

Experian, however, warned of slower organic revenue growth in the fourth quarter of 3-5%, compared to 7% growth in the third.

Online electrical retailer AO World (AO.) dropped 5.3% to 357.5p despite reporting a jump in third-quarter revenue in the UK and Germany.

AO World also said it had incurred ‘significantly higher’ costs as it negotiated working in a Covid compliant environment.

Mr Kipling cakes and Bisto gravy maker Premier Foods (PFD) shed 3.7% to 103.9p, even as it guided for a rise in annual trading profit after its third-quarter sales jumped 9%, as people buy more groceries during lockdown.

Trading profit for the year through March was expected at between £145 million and £150 million, up from £132.6 million year-on-year, the company said in an update. Sales had grown 12.5% in the year to date.

Mining company Rio Tinto (RIO) dipped 0.5% to £59.43 after it boosted fourth-quarter production and shipments of iron ore from Australia's Pilbara region.

Fashion retailer Superdry (SDRY) slumped 17.6% to 197.7p, having reported a deeper first-half loss and scrapped its interim dividend, as the pandemic and related store closures disrupted its turnaround attempts.

Real estate company British Land (BLND) dipped 0.6% to 451.6p on news that it had appointed Bhavesh Mistry as chief financial officer. Mistry was currently deputy CFO at Tesco, a position he had held for over two years.

Gold miner Centamin (CEY) firmed 3.4% to 120.2p, having maintained its guidance for 2021 after reporting annual production that met its revised expectations.

London-based shopping centre operator Hammerson (HMSO) dipped 0.25% to 22.87p as it said on Tuesday it received less than half of the rents due for the first quarter as stricter Covid restrictions aggravate conditions in Britain’s high streets and rest of Europe.

Construction and infrastructure services group Kier (KIE) jumped 10.3% to 82.9p after telling investors that it expected to deliver half-year results ‘slightly above’ its expectations following an improvement in site productivity amid the ongoing pandemic.

The company also said it anticipates that a reduction in adjusting items in the period would generate a statutory result ‘materially better’ than the corresponding period last year.

Chocolatier Hotel Chocolat (HOTC:AIM) gained 1.4% to 375p after reporting a rise in revenue in the 13 weeks through December as online growth more than offset the impact of shuttered stores owing to Covid restrictions.

For the 13-week and 26-week periods ended 27 December 2020, revenue increased 19% and 11% year-on-year respectively. In the UK, online growth more than offset the impact of the temporary closures of physical retail due to Covid restrictions, the company said.

Rental and student accommodation developer Watkin Jones (WJG:AIM) gained 9.9% to 204.8p, even as it booked a 47% drop in annual profit after the pandemic led to the deferral of forward sales on developments.

Watkin Jones declared a full-year dividend of 7.35p per share, down 12% year-on-year, but still welcomed by investors keen for yield in a tough market.

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Issue Date: 19 Jan 2021