UK stocks opened higher on Tuesday as concerns about the omicron variant abated, China eased monetary policy and several blue chip companies announced earnings upgrades, with the benchmark FTSE 100 index bid up 1.1% to 7,312.73 points early on.

Indications that the new Covid strain may only trigger mild symptoms prompted relief among investors and helped travel stocks take off.

Risk appetite was also boosted by yesterday’s decision by the People’s Bank of China to cut the reserve requirement ratio by 50 basis points, which helped the blue chip benchmark to climb back above 7,300, where it traded before the omicron-driven sell-off on 26 November.

CORPORATE NEWS

US-focused plumbing products group Ferguson (FERG) topped the FTSE 100 leader board, firming 4.8% to more than £112 as it raised full year expectations after reporting a rise in first quarter sales.

‘Supportive end markets and continued market share gains drove substantial sales growth,’ said Ferguson.

While the company continues to expect a tapering of growth in the second half on tougher prior year comparatives, Ferguson raised full year expectations given ‘strong’ momentum in the business and the agility of its business model.

Also in demand was equipment hire giant Ashtead (AHT), which advanced 2.4% to £63.48 after upgrading its full year outlook following a surge in half year profit amid a jump in rental revenue.

For the half year to October 2021, pre-tax profit rose 38% to $474 million year-on-year as revenue increased 18% to $3.88 billion. Looking ahead, the company upgraded full year group rental revenue growth guidance to a range of 17%-to-20%, up from 13-to-16% previously.

British American Tobacco (BATS) puffed 1.2% higher to £26.56 on announcing it is ‘confident’ of delivering against full year earnings growth guidance, having grown annual revenue by 5% at constant currency off the back of strong growth in new product categories.

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (AZN) cheapened 1.2% to £82.64 despite news it has signed a development agreement with Ionis Pharmaceuticals for a drug to treat transthyretin amyloidosis.

AstraZeneca will pay Ionis $200 million upfront and additional payments of up to $485 million following regulatory approvals, plus sales-related milestone payments and royalties.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) inched up 0.2% to £15.57 on announcing trials have indicated a Covid-19 therapy that it is developing with Vir Biotechnology still works against the omicron variant.

AROUND THE MARKET

Defence contractor Babcock International (BAB) edged 0.5% higher to 308.4p, having swung to a first half profit underpinned by rising revenue and leaner spending as a turnaround strategy takes hold.

PageGroup (PAGE) climbed 3.8% to 678p after the recruiter upgraded its annual earnings guidance as improved market conditions persisted into the fourth quarter.

Elsewhere, fund manager Liontrust (LIO) improved 2% to £23.15 on news it is buying Majedie Asset Management for up to £120 million.

UK-based asset manager Majedie has a long-term pedigree in institutional fund management, which is an area of increasing strategic focus for Liontrust.

Somero (SOM:AIM) skipped 7.6% higher to 510p as the construction industry equipment manufacturer upgraded its annual earnings, revenue and cash guidance amid continued strong trading in North America.

Agriculture-to-engineering combine Carr’s (CARR) gained 4.5% to 152.5p on slightly better-than-expected full year results and a positive outlook statement.

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Issue Date: 07 Dec 2021