It was typically very quiet start for UK stock markets on the last full trading day before Christmas. There was very little company news to steer markets one way or the other, leaving investors to ponder the possibility of a Brexit trade deal being agreed.

The chances of a deal being struck between UK and EU negotiators seemed to nudge a step closer with speculation emerging overnight of progress in talks on fishing rights.

At 9am, the benchmark FTSE 100 had dipped around 3.6 points lower, or 0.06%, to 6,449.53, underperforming major European markets as a strengthening pound weighed on exporters.

Midcap stocks rose as France agreed to lift a ban on freight from Britain imposed to contain a new coronavirus variant. The more domestically focused mid-cap FTSE 250 made 0.35% gains to 20,020.28 as a deal was reached with Paris to restore critical trade links between UK and other parts of Europe, ending a border blockade imposed to contain the new coronavirus strain.

Travel-related stocks, banks and other UK-facing stocks led the FTSE leader board, headed by BA-owner International Consolidated Airlines (IAG), up 2% at 155.3p. Going the other way, medical technology company Smith & Nephew (SN.) topped the FTSE loser board, drifting 1.4% to £15.345.

CAIRN JUMPS ON DAMAGES DEAL

In company news, oil firm Cairn Energy (CNE) jumped 36% to 225p after it won a long-running international arbitration case against the Indian government and was awarded $1.2 billion in damages plus interest and costs.

Cairn had been fighting against a large Indian capital gains tax bill since 2015.

Pubs owner Marston’s (MARS) advanced 2.3% to 70.45p as it agreed to operate Brain’s portfolio of 156 pubs in Wales, for an undisclosed sum, on a combination of leased and management contract arrangements.

British pub operator hopes to save 1,300 jobs at the Cardiff-based family business established in Cardiff in 1882, which had been under financial pressure due to the pandemic.

Commercial property company British Land (BLND) climbed 1.5% to 490.9p, having agreed to sell its 75% stake in a portfolio of three buildings in London’s West End to Allianz Real Estate for £401 million.

Software group Sage (SGE) shed 0.2% to 590.4p following news that it had agreed to sell its businesses in Asia and Australia to The Access Group for around £95 million.

Sage had told the market in November that it was holding the businesses for sale.

Property investor CLS (CLI) dipped 0.25% to 210.5p after agreeing to acquire an office building in Essen, Germany for €38.2 million.

Infrastructure investment company International Public Partnerships (INPP) edged up 0.1% to 165.04p after it pledged additional investments into the Northern Diabolo rail link in Belgium.

SMALLCAP WRAP

Cell-based therapies group MaxCyte (MXCT:AIM) firmed 1.8% to 464p on guiding for annual financial results at its core life sciences business ahead of market expectations.

Pharmaceutical services group Open Orphan (ORPH:AIM) added 1.8% to 23.52p after 63%-owned drug development company PrEP Biopharm completed a toxicology study for a novel pan-viral prophylactic asset.

The animal model study provided safety data needed to move into longer duration dosing in clinical studies to validate efficacy against respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, influenza and the common cold.

Find out how to deal online from £1.50 in a SIPP, ISA or Dealing account.

Issue Date: 23 Dec 2020