UK stocks start the week flat with the FTSE 100 opening at 7,509, little changed from Friday as investors weigh up the political environment.

Ahead of Boris Johnson’s likely appointment as the new prime minister tomorrow investors seem to be acting cautiously with uncertainty over a 'no-deal' Brexit set to go up a notch.

Heightened tensions in the Gulf, as well as a possible interest rate cut from the US Federal Reserve, also lead to subdued trading.

Metro Bank (MTRO) is the main feature in early trading with shares up 3% to 486p after it confirmed a report from Sky News that it is in talks to sell book of mortgage loans.

However, it warned that ‘there can be no certainty at this stage that an agreement will be reached’. It is believed that the challenger bank is returning assets to US private equity investor Cerberus, having originally bought over £1bn in assets from the firm to bolster its loan book.

Shares in Premier Inn owner Whitbread (WTB) are down 2.3% to £47.88 after it confirmed that it would return £2bn to shareholders via an offer to buy back shares at a price of £49.72.

Whitbread has a cash pile of £2bn after selling Costa Coffee to Coca Cola for £3.9bn, and plans to return money to shareholders capped at a maximum of £50 per share.

Publishing company Ascential (ASCL) is up 2.9% to 390p following strong results for the six months to 30 June, with revenue rising 25% to £236.2m and reported operating profit up 23.3% to £36m.

The firm’s chief executive officer Duncan Painter said good progress against its four key priorities for the year, as well as strong growth from some of its acquisitions and recently launched brands, mean that guidance for 2019 is still on track as is its medium-term target of double-digit growth.

Ascential also announced that it has agreed to acquire a 35% stake in Jumpshot Inc, a marketing analytics subsidiary of Avast (AVST).

Avast shares nudge 1.1% higher to 343p with Ascential paying $60.7m for the stake in Jumpshot.

Elsewhere on the FTSE 250, shares in real estate investment trust CLS Holdings (CLI) are up 2% to 225p after it announced the sale of two properties in Germany for a total of €57.4m, saying the sale was driven by the limited opportunity for the properties to add further value and their low yield.

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Issue Date: 22 Jul 2019