UK stocks traded higher in Wednesday’s morning session despite data showing the economy shrank by 20% in the second quarter, the worst performance on record and the biggest contraction of any major country so far.
By midday the benchmark FTSE 100 index was up 66 points or 1.1% at 6,220 led by financial and consumer stocks.
Car and home insurer Admiral (ADM) was the biggest FTSE gainer, rising 6.3% to a new all-time high of £26.84 after it reported a sharp jump in first half profits and reinstated its 2019 special dividend alongside its 2020 interim dividend.
Reflecting on first half trading, chief executive David Stevens said ‘A year ago I described our results as “frankly a bit dull”. With the benefit of hindsight there’s a lot to be said for “dull” if the alternative is a global pandemic.’
Online fashion retailer Asos (ASC) rose 4.8% to £44.22 as it forecast a full-year annual performance 'significantly' ahead of market expectations.
Asos said revenue growth was now expected to be between 17% and 19% with pre-tax profit in the region of £130m-to-£150m.
Food delivery giant Just Eat Takeaway (JET) gained 4.3% to £90.54 after it reported bumper revenue growth in the first half and forecast more to come, as people avoid eating out during the pandemic.
M&G (MNG), the wealth manager spun out of insurer Prudential, advanced 3.8% to 179p after it posted a rise in first-half profit owing to short-term movements in investment returns, though its underlying earnings fell on client outflows.
M&G declared an interim dividend of 6p per share, in line with its policy of paying one-third of the previous year's final dividend.
Industrial services and rental group Northbridge (NBI) added 1.1% to 90.5p on guiding for a broadly flat first-half trading profit, after lower revenue was offset by cost cutting.
Thermal energy management and heat pumping specialist Spirax‐Sarco Engineering (SPX) reversed 1.5% to £104.95, having posted a modest 2% fall in first-half profit that it described as 'resilient'.
Spirax‐Sarco declared an interim dividend of 33.5p, up 5% on-year.
Hostelworld (HSW) slipped 1.4% to 62p after swinging to a €18.8m loss amid a 69% slump in revenue. However, the firm said it would pay a share-based dividend by way of a bonus issue, based on a value of 1 euro cent per share.
Infrastructure company Balfour Beatty (BBY) dropped 3.8% to 252p having swung to a first-half loss as construction activity was halted by the pandemic.
Cybersecurity provider Avast (AVST) dropped 5.5% to 567p despite raising its dividend and forecasting revenue at the upper end of guidance after reporting a higher first-half profit.
Avast, which has been benefiting from the work-from-home trend, declared an interim dividend of 4.8c per share, up 9.1% on-year.