UK stocks opened substantially higher on Wednesday, with the FTSE 100 up 212.3 points at 5,658.32 early on, after US lawmakers reached agreement on a $2trn stimulus package to buffer the world’s biggest economy from the still-spreading coronavirus.

Housebuilder Persimmon (PSN) perked up 3.7% to £17.55 even after it scrapped one planned dividend payment and postponed another as it braces for a fall in home completions due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Pest control company Rentokil Initial (RTO) slumped 9.5% to 335.4p after it suspended dividend payments and withdrew previous guidance for 2020.

UK distributor Diploma (DPL) dipped 16p to £14.16 on a profit warning triggered by the coronavirus outbreak, which has led to a ‘rapid change’ in market conditions from around 16 March in Europe where public mobility has been most restricted, and in sectors such as civil aerospace.

As a result, Diploma now expects to report slightly weaker than expected first half performance, although it remains too early to assess the impact that this unfolding situation will have on full year profits.

Waste management company Biffa (BIFF) dropped 5.7% to 215p after it pulled its dividend and warned that the coronavirus pandemic would have a ‘material impact’ on its performance.

Retail meat, fish and vegetarian products play Hilton Food (HFG) firmed 14p to 950p on news the business performed ‘slightly ahead’ of management’s expectations in 2019, with a continuation of strong year-on-year sales and volume growth.

The company has delayed its full year results at the request of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) amid the evolving coronavirus crisis, but the trading outlook remains ‘positive’ and Hilton Food is seeing increasing consumer demand for protein-based products during the outbreak.

Car parts-to-bicycles seller Halfords (HFD) rallied 8.1% to 65.1p despite suspending the dividend and pulling guidance for the 2021 financial year amid the coronavirus crisis.

Designated by the government as an essential services provider, Halfords said trading has been ‘very strong in the last couple of weeks’, although the retailer also warned 2020 underlying profit before tax could be ‘at the lower end of, or slightly below, the current guidance range of £50-55m’.

Retailer DFS Furniture (DFS) rose 2.1% to 116.2p, joining in with the broader market rally despite withdrawing guidance, cancelling the interim dividend and saying it had temporarily closed down its showrooms and manufacturing facilities and suspended deliveries to protect staff and customers from the coronavirus.

Vodka maker Stock Spirits (STCK) fizzed up 6.6% to 157p on the news it has started manufacturing hand sanitiser at its production facility in the Czech Republic, and is in advanced planning to do the same at its factory in Poland, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Flooring manufacturer Victoria (VCP:AIM) improved 10% to 165p after announcing that despite the ongoing pandemic, it expects performance for the year ending 28 March will be ‘broadly in line with market expectations’.

Management also insisted the current situation ‘does not present an existential threat to Victoria’ and whilst short term trading will be affected, ‘the long-term outlook for the group remains positive’.

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Issue Date: 25 Mar 2020