The UK’s benchmark FTSE 100 index reversed earlier gains to drop sharply into negative territory shortly before midday, down 0.4% to 6,507.94 amid some strength in the pound on raised Brexit hopes and weakness in banking and pharmaceutical stocks.

In doing so it underperformed more buoyant markets elsewhere in Europe, with Germany’s DAX up 0.68% and France’s CAC 40 rising 0.28%.

It comes as the EU hints that tentative ‘movement’ has been made in Brexit trade talks, though the UK insists that negotiations remain ‘difficult’.

The more domestically-focused FTSE 250, seen as a barometer for Brexit sentiment, gained just eight points to 19,772.91.

JD SPORTS EXPANDS US FOOTPRINT

In company news, sportswear retailer JD Sports Fashion (JD.) moved 1.7% higher to 804p on news that it had acquired US group Shoe Palace for $325 million.

JD Sports said the San Jose-based company, with 167 stores, would boost its presence on the US west coast and strengthen its connection with Hispanic and Latino consumers.

Online trading platform IG (IGG) rose 0.4% to 831.5p as it guided for a 66% jump in first-half net trading revenue amid a jump in its client base.

IG said it had an active client base in the second quarter of 207,000, up substantially from 133,800 year-on-year.

Real estate investor Segro (SGRO) fell 0.6% to 903.8p after it agreed to acquire a further 74.9% of Sofibus Patrimoine for €178.6 million, boosting it exposure to the Paris urban warehouse market.

Segro would buy the stake for €313.71 per Sofibus share, lifting its holding to 94.4% following an initial 19.5% stake purchase in 2018.

LOSSES MOUNT FOR SHAFTESBURY

London West End real estate investor Shaftesbury (SHB) slipped 4.6% to 524p, having swung to a full-year loss after the pandemic hit rental income and prompted a steep downward revaluation of its property portfolio.

Shaftesbury’s net losses for the year through September amounted to £699.5 million, compared to a profit of £26.0 million year-on-year. No dividends were declared, as previously guided.

Information and data analytics group Ascential (ASCL) shed 0.3% to 359.8p following news it would sell construction project sales leads unit Glenigan to Byggfakta for £72.9 million.

Ascential said the deal would allow capital to be allocated to other areas, such as its digital commerce segment, including through acquisitions.

Defence company Chemring (CHG) rallied 11.6% to 302.5p after it raised its dividend, having reporting annual results that topped its expectations.

Chemring declared a dividend for the year of 3.9p a share, up 8% year-on-year.

Mobile masts operator Airtel Africa (AAF) plunged 19.2% to 74.5p after one of its long-standing institutional investors sold-off a 1.6% stake in the business at a discount to last night’s 92.2p close.

The 60 million share slug was placed at 80p per share. The shareholder went unnamed.

WPP (WPP), the world's biggest advertising company, dipped 0.2% to 782.2p as it said it will restate its financial statements for 2017, 2018 and 2019 as some aspects were not fully in line with accounting requirements.

OTHER NEWS

Real estate agency Purplebricks (PURP:AIM) jumped 16.4% to 88p as it swung to a first-half profit, in a sign it's recovering from a recent rough patch that saw it beat a retreat from North America and Australia.

Purplebricks also forecast annual adjusted earnings above current market expectations.

Investment trust BMO Global Smaller Companies (BGSC) reported performance that fell short of its benchmark in the first half of the year.

Net asset value with debt at market value increased to 133.93p per share, giving a total return of 13.1%, undershooting the benchmark total return of 15.2%.

The share price ended the period at 123.8p, delivering a total return of 12.6%, but rose to 142.1p on Tuesday.

The interim dividend was held at 0.55p per ordinary share.

Small company investor Miton UK MicroCap Trust (MINI) posted a positive first-half performance but said it was unlikely to pay a dividend for the full year.

The company’s net asset value total return for the six months through October was 21.6%. The share price fell 0.47% to 62.01p.

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Issue Date: 15 Dec 2020