London’s 100 was solidly higher by midday on Thursday, the blue chip benchmark rising 0.4% to 7,370.29 points, a 20-month high. The rise in the index was supported by gains for the miners amid relief Chinese property developer Evergrande avoided defaulting on its debts.

Retailers were under pressure following several disappointing updates that cast gloom on the sector.

Luxury brand Burberry (BRBY) fell 5.4% to £18.61 after it said sales in Europe and Japan remained under pressure from reduced tourist levels, even as it exceeded quarterly profit expectations.

Adding to sector worries was discount retailer B&M (BME) which lost 7% to 599.2p after posting lower first half core earnings.

Halfords (HFD) and Card Factory (CARD) were also off, although that follows strong gains earlier in the week after bullish updates.

Putting a data dampener on the market’s mood were latest figures from the Office for National Statistics that showed UK economic growth slowing in the third quarter.

Between July and September, gross domestic product grew just 1.3%, missing expectations of 1.5% and significantly below 5.5% growth recorded in the second quarter.

BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED

Chemicals company Johnson Matthey (JMAT) led the FTSE 100 loser board on Thursday after the group revealed plans to exit its battery materials business and warned on profits.

Shares in Johnson Matthey slumped 15.6% to £23.32 after the company said it believes that potential returns from its battery business don’t justify further investment and warned it has also been hampered by supply chain difficulties that have hit the automotive industry.

Chief executive Robert MacLeod also announced that he will leave the company.

Also hurt in the automotive space was TI Fluid Systems (TIF), the biggest FTSE 250 faller. Its shares slumped 8.8% to 249.5p after major shareholder Omega sold 40 million shares at 250p.

Going the other way, online cars and vans marketplace Auto Trader (AUTO) topped the FTSE 100 leader board, up 11% at 688p as it reported its highest ever six-monthly revenue and profits.

For the six months ended 30 September 2021, pre-tax profit rose 127% to £150 million year-on-year and revenue was up 82% to £215.4 million. An interim dividend of 2.7p is proposed.

Retailer WH Smith (SMWH) reduced annual losses as cost cuts offset a slide in revenue. The narrower loss reflected a recovery in passenger numbers and tight cost control.

For the year ended 31 August, pre-tax losses narrowed to £116 million from £280 million, while revenue declined 13% to £886 million.

The company has decided not to pay a dividend. On a more encouraging note management is optimistic it will be able to achieve 2019 sales levels in the current financial year. The shares drifted 0.4% lower to £16.09.

ELSEWHERE ON THE MARKET

Insurer Aviva (AV) edged 0.5% higher to 407.6p after the company reported a ‘strong’ performance in the first nine months of the year, amid record inflows in savings & retirement business and ‘excellent’ growth in general insurance.

Savings & retirement net flows were up 21% year-to-date, while general insurance premiums grew 5% year-to-date reflecting ‘solid customer retention and new business wins, particularly in commercial lines’, the company said. The group has completed £450 million of its £750 million share buyback.

Defence company BAE Systems (BA) said it had agreed to acquire Bohemia Interactive Simulations, a developer of advanced military simulation and training software.

Bohemia Interactive Simulations, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, provides training software to the likes of the US military, which is its largest customer. No specific terms of the deal were disclosed, leaving the shares flat at 569.8p.

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Issue Date: 11 Nov 2021