UK shares started the new in an optimistic mood, shrugging off recent inflation and bond market jitters as the focus shifted to a vaccine-led recovery and US fiscal stimulus.

Trading in Asia was strong with the Nikkei 225 gaining 2.4% and the SE Composite adding 1.2%. Gold prices were 0.7% higher at $1,750 an ounce while Brent Crude added 0.25% to $62.63 a barrel. The pound was steady against the US dollar at $1.39.

At 12.30pm the FTSE 100 index of leading shares was off its earlier highs but still up 1.3% at 6,566 points led by house-builders on hopes of an extension to the stamp duty holiday in Wednesday's budget.

PROFITS UP, SHARES DOWN

Distribution and services group Bunzl (BNZL) said full year pre-tax profit rose 22.6% to £555.7 million as revenue increased 8.4% to £10.11 billion.

Revenue growth was driven by a strong increase in demand for Covid-19 related products, offset by a decline in other product sales particularly in the retail and foodservice sectors.

In a separate statement, the company said it had recently completed three further acquisitions. The shares dipped 1% to £22.15.

Supermarket group Morrisons (MRW) extended a wholesale supply agreement with convenience store chain McColl's (MCLS) with 300 McColl's convenience stores to be converted to the Morrisons Daily format over the next three years.

Morrison's currently supplies over 1,200 McColl's stores, including over 230 of its biggest convenience stores. Morrison shares were flat at 171p while McColl's shares jumped 13.5% to 27p.

Telecoms giant BT (BT.) said that Jan du Plessis would be stepping down as chairman of the company in 2021 once a successor has been appointed.

The company said it would now initiate a process for the appointment of a successor led by the senior independent director. The shares gained 1.8% to 125.75p.

CORPORATE ACTIVITY

Shares in pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca (AZN) gained 0.2% to £69.61 after it cashed in its 7.7% stake in US biotech firm Moderna for more than $1 billion. Moderna’s share have surged 492% over the last year.

Gambling group Entain (ENT) increased its offer for Enlabs AB from SEK 40 per share to SEK 53 per share, representing its final offer. The shares traded sideways at £14.14.

Industrial and electronics products maker Electrocomponents (ECM) said it had acquired John Liscombe, a supplier of high-risk hand protection and PPE products to industrial blue-chip customers in the UK and the Netherlands, for £11 million. The shares added 1.3% to 982p.

Precious metal miner Polymetal International (POLY) said its reserves estimates had risen 10% in calendar 2020, driven by initial estimates at its Kyzyl and Voro projects, in Kazakhstan and Russia, respectively.

Ore reserves for the year through December had increased to 27.9 million ounces of gold equivalent. The shares gained 1.8% to £14.47.

Temporary Power company Aggreko (AGK) increased its full year dividend to 15 pence per share from 9.38 pence with a final payment for last year of 10p per share.

Underlying pre-tax profit, which excludes exceptional items, was £102 million, slightly ahead of the company's initial guidance of £80-to-100 million. Still, shares eased 0.7% to 794p.

PUBLISHER'S DIGITAL CHALLENGE

Newspaper publisher Reach (RCH) said full year adjusted operating profit fell 13% to £133.8 million. Reach said cost cutting and a higher digital mix supported a 50-basis-point increase in its adjusted operating profit margin to 22.3%.

The company declared a final dividend of 4.26p per share, up from the 2.5p declared for 2019. The shares dropped 4.8% to 227p.

Shares in tool and equipment hire group Speedy Hire (SDY) jumped 4.4% to 66.8p after it said trading since 30 September had been ahead of its expectations, and it expected full year profits to be ‘well head’ of current market expectations.

Shares in foreign exchange provider Equals Group (EQLS:AIM) surged 3% higher to 39p after announcing a partnership with Tap Global to provide crypto currency exchange services to both its business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) customer bases.

A FULL LIST OF MOVERS CAN BE SEEN HERE

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

Issue Date: 01 Mar 2021