UK markets were flat in early trade on Tuesday as gains from rising commodity prices, mining and energy stocks and a firm reopening trade were neutralised by weakness from banking giant HSBC (HSBA), which ditched its long-term profitability targets.

At lunchtime, the commodity-heavy FTSE 100 benchmark was struggling to make any ground, slipping 0.14% at 6,602.71. Mid-caps were stronger but lost some of their earlier momentum, the FTSE 250 moving 0.3% higher to 21,047.66 on a strong UK reopening trade.

Travel and leisure stocks jumped nearly 3% in early deals, gaining for a second straight day, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his 60-page roadmap out of lockdown dossier for England. Aero-engines maker Rolls-Royce (RR.) led the way, up more than 4% at 109.9p, with BA-owner International Consolidated Airlines (IAG) and InterContinental Hotels (IHG) also rallying, while mid-caps like airports retail business SSP (SSP)Cineworld (CINE) and Rank (RNK) surged.

BANK ABANDONS PROFIT TARGETS

Full year results from HSBC showed profits beating expectations, even though they were 34% lower than seen in 2019. That was enough to allow the bank to resume dividend payments from August at $0.15 per share, although bad debt provisions have more than trebled.

The banking group also ditched previous profit targets because of the low interest rate environment while confirming that its future focus will be pointed even more towards Asia though there was no decision on the US retail banking business, where speculation had been it would shut down.

The shares fell more than 2% to 422.4p.

Firm commodity prices saw gains for oil producers BP (BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB), while mining stocks Anglo American (AAL), Rio Tinto (RIO) and BHP (BHP) were also among the biggest boost to the index.

Shares of Holiday Inn-owner InterContinental Hotels slipped into the red, down 0.3% at £52.96 despite posting an annual loss, triggered by repeated Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

EasyJet (EZJ) said flight bookings jumped over 300% and holidays bookings surged by more than 600% week on week, after Britain laid out plans for international travel to restart, hinting that borders could reopen from mid-May.

That saw the stock jump 7% to 952p despite ongoing uncertainty over exactly how and when international routes can reopen.

Life insurer Aviva (AV.) added 0.5% to 377p, having sold its French unit to Aema Groupe for €3.2 billion as part of a plan to focus on its UK, Ireland and Canada businesses.

The deal covered Aviva's French life, general insurance, and asset management businesses and its 75% stake in UFF5.

Investment manager Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) dipped 2% to 319.7p on news that it would acquire investment platform businesses from insurer Phoenix for £62.5 million, while extending and simplifying their existing relationship.

Standard Life Aberdeen also would sell the Standard Life brand to Phoenix during the course of 2021, but pay Phoenix another £32 million in return for it bearing the cost of transferring staff.

Mike Ashley’s Frasers (FRAS), formerly Sport Direct, firmed 0.7% to 463.4p despite warning of a non-cash write-down of more than £100 million.

The sportswear and equipment retailer pinned the write-down on the impact of the current lockdown and shift in consumer behaviour to online shopping.

COMPANY NEWS WRAP

Infrastructure investor Sequoia Economic Infrastructure Income Fund (SEQI) shed 1.3% to 106.8p as it launched a £172.9 million share placing to pay down debt and pursue investment opportunities.

New shares in the company were being offered at 105.25p each, a 2.7% discount to their closing price on Monday.

Listed infrastructure investor HICL (HICL) slid  0.2% to 167.8p after it said it remained on track to deliver its dividend target as the impact of pandemic lockdowns had 'largely been mitigated.'

Sub-prime lender Non-Standard Finance (NSF) soared 18% to 4.17p, even after it said that it was planning a 'substantial' equity raising to support growth, avoid covenant breaches and address uncertainties about remaining a going concern.

Non-Standard Finance said it had commenced planning work on the raising with the support of largest shareholder Alchemy, with a view to completing it in the second quarter of 2021.

Transport analytics group Tracsis (TRCS:AIM) fell 2% to 644.4p on guiding for slightly lower first-half earnings, owing to the pandemic hurting sales at its events and traffic-data business.

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Issue Date: 23 Feb 2021