A flurry of blue-chip company announcements and today's Bank of England (BoE) and European Central Bank (ECB) interest rate calls keep investor wary in early trade Thursday. The BoE is widely expected to keep interest rates at the record-low level of 0.5% when it announces its policy decision at midday, but that's likely to weigh on sentiment until confirmation comes through. The benchmark FTSE 100 index trades around 0.3% in the red early on at 6,512.
But there is a plenty to keep investors interested on the corporate front, with bombed-out grocer Morrisons (MRW) heading the Footsie leader board, up 7.4% to 174.4p. Its mildly encouraging third quarter update, plus the absence of further forecast downgrades, triggers a relief rally in the stock. Though like-for-like sales slumped a further 6.3% in Q3, there's signs Morrisons' price-cutting is starting to stem customer losses to the discounters. CEO Dalton Philips also flags better-than-expected progress on debt reduction and narrows full-year profits guidance from a £325 million-to-£375 million range to £335 million-to-£365 million.
The big four banks are down on news that regulator the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a new probe into how to improve transparency and lower barriers to entry in the current account and small business banking sectors. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds Banking (LLOY) fall 0.9% to 279p and 1.2% to 76.3p, respectively, while Barclays (BARC) and HSBA (HSBA) slip 1.4% to 234.7p and 0.65 to 629.5p on the news.
The UK’s second largest drug-maker AstraZeneca (AZN) slips 1.7% to £45.41 despite lifting its sales forecasts for the year. Pre-tax profits in the third quarter, however, plummeted 80% to $322 million on increased R&D spend, while earnings growth is limited to 5% due to a strong pound. More can be read on this story soon.
Gold miner Randgold Resources (RRS) gains 50p at £38.15 as it confirms a 'robust' third-quarter, and says it is confident of delivering a record year with quarterly gold output at all-time highs and costs being well contained.
Global telecoms supplier Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) slumps 8.3% to 44.36p as it launches an enormous $1.85 billion acquisition of Columbus International. The subsequent fund raise will see the number of shares in issue increase by 10% as the group expands its footprint across the Caribbean, while announcing interim results alongside today's deal.
Better-than-expected cash generation at credit services provider Experian (EXPN) drives its shares 3.5% higher to 973p. But the Nottingham-based business reports organic revenue growth is flat in the six months to end-September, held back by declining sales in its US direct-to-consumer business.
Schroders (SDR), the UK’s largest-listed asset manager, reports profit before tax up 16% on an underlying basis. It says new client inflows were £7 billion in the nine months to 30 Sep. The shares are flat at £24.50.
Cathedral City-to-Clover maker Dairy Crest (DCG) surges 10.4% higher to 470.5p on news it is selling its loss-making dairies business to German group Müller for £80 million in cash. Overshadowing in-line interim results, the transformational sale of its liquid milk and bulk cream businesses as well as flavoured milk brand Frijj will improve earnings quality.
Car parts-to-bicycles seller Halfords (HFD) reverses almost 4% to 483.1p as investors take profits following a strong run into the numbers. The running Shares Play of the Week reports an interim pre-tax profits beat, up 10.8%.
Distributed denial of Service (DDoS) IT security minnow Corero Network Security (CNS:AIM) collapses more than 30% to 13.5p as it struggles to replace mature product sales with its new SmartWall cyber defence suite. This will mean revenues falling substantially below market consensus for $11.5 million at around $9 million, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) losses stacking up to $7 million. Today's warning, embarrassingly for the company, comes just days before an investor open day scheduled for 13 November.
ID management software supplier Intercede (IGP:AIM) bears the scars of a tough half year, sliding £0.7 million into the red as unpredictable sales cycles continue to hound the company. However, investors are impressed by a strong-looking sales pipeline, driving the shares 7% higher to 122.5p.
Broadcaster STV (STVG) slips 3% to 358p despite confirming it trading in line with expectations and is on track for the launch of its STV Edinburgh channel in early 2015. The market appears to have been hoping for earnings upgrades having marked the shares more than 10% higher in the two weeks preceding today's update.
Private hospital operator Spire Healthcare (SPI) advances 4.2% to 296p on agreeing a four-year contract with health insurer Bupa. Spire is set to meet revenue guidance of up to £840 million this year.