UK shares gave up early gains by Thursday lunchtime as growing fears over worldwide coronavirus flare-ups continue to weigh on risk assets.

Markets will be paying close attention to what the European Central Bank has to say later at its press conference as Europe continues to struggle in its vaccination roll-out.  Across the Atlantic, US chip giant Intel Corp is expected to report today.

At 12pm the FTSE 100 index of leading shares was virtually flat at 6,901 points.


Pest control and hygiene group Rentokil (RTO) posted a solid first quarter with ongoing revenues up 15.4% to £711 million driven by organic growth of 9.4% and a 6% contribution from acquisitions.

Hygiene services were boosted by £75.7 million from one-time disinfection services while pest control reported 10.5% growth of which just 1.2% was organic.

The firm reported ‘growing momentum over the quarter’, particularly in pest control, but signalled a ‘material’ reduction in disinfection volumes and prices this quarter and projected ‘a significant unwind as the year progresses’. The shares fell 1.5% to 504.2p.

House builder Taylor Wimpey (TW.) confirmed its full year earnings guidance thanks to a healthy housing market ‘underpinned by continued strong customer demand, low interest rates, good mortgage availability and ongoing Government support, particularly for first time buyers’.

As of this week the company’s net private sales rate was well ahead of April last year, while the order book was also ahead at £2.8 billion against £2.67 billion.

Although it isn’t paying a special dividend this year the firm reiterated its long-term intention to return excess capital to shareholders. The shares dipped 0.6% to 182.3p.

Information and analytics group RELX (REL) said its three core businesses had ‘started the year well’ as it updated on its first quarter progress. Exhibitions, which make up a small part of revenues, continued to be impacted by Covid restrictions worldwide.

Overall the firm said it is looking at ‘another year of underlying revenue and adjusted operating profit growth similar to pre-Covid trends’ in its core operations. The shares gained 1.1% to £19.41.

Precision instrument maker Spectris (SXS) reported a strong start to the year with sales growth ahead of management expectations thanks to a faster than expected recovery in its end markets, in particular pharmaceuticals and semiconductors.

The recovery was most notable in Asian markets, where sales bounced by 24% during the quarter, well ahead of Europe and the US which saw declines of 1% and 2% respectively. The shares lost 0.8% to £32.72.

Investment platform AJ Bell (AJB) posted a strong second quarter update with customer numbers rising 11% from the first quarter and 32% year on year, driven by a 64% increase in platform customers compared with last year.

Net fund inflows hit £1.5 billion, taking total assets under administration to a record £65.2 billion, a 35% increase on the same period last year. Chief executive Andy Bell signalled ‘strong momentum going into the second half’. Despite the positive news, the shares lost 3.4% to 450.6p.

Fast food purveyor Domino’s Pizza (DOM) released a mixed first quarter trading update, with sales up 18.7% thanks to ‘exceptional trading over the new year’ when the UK was still in lockdown, but collection services still running well below pre-pandemic levels.

Moreover, the firm declined to give an indication of second quarter trading or provide any full year guidance save to say it aimed to ‘capitalise on the opportunities which lie ahead’ as the UK exits lockdown. The shares lost 0.7% to 364.4p.


Disclaimer: The author owns shares in AJ Bell, owner and publisher of Shares magazine.

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Issue Date: 22 Apr 2021