London’s FTSE 100 firms 31.2 points to 7,216.6 as the idea Brexit could be delayed stirs up investor interest in UK stocks. This follows a vote by MPs to ask the EU to push back the UK’s exit beyond the current 29 March departure date. Housebuilders, supermarkets, tobacco firms and insurers are all giving weight to the broader FTSE 350 index, with small gains also being registered across all of the other main stock market indices in mainland Europe.

Investors have renewed appetite for Restaurant Group (RTN) on Friday, the Frankie & Benny’s owner bid up 10.6% to 140p despite serving up a £4.6m drop in 2018 pre-tax profit to £53.2m. The share price reacts positively because this result is better than many feared, while Restaurant Group also flags encouraging 2.8% growth in like-for-like sales for the 10 weeks to 10 March 2019.

Restaurant Group’s future now lies heavily on the success of transformational acquisition Wagamama, where recent trading has been good. The news business heavyweight Allan Leighton has been appointed as senior non-executive director also sits well with investors.

Pubs operator JD Wetherspoon (JDW) cheapens 10p to £12.82 after posting an 18.9% drop in pre-tax profit to £50.3m for the half ended 27 January. Higher wages ate into margins in the half and chairman Tim Martin warns costs in the second half ‘will be higher than those of the same period last year’.

The passionate Brexiteer is however able to report a 9.6% hike in like-for-like sales for the six weeks to 10 March 2019, helped by excellent weather this year and last year’s snow blighted comparatives.

High-end housebuilder Berkeley (BKG) gains 1.7% to trade at £39.73 after reiterating previously upgraded guidance for ‘around 8%’ growth in annual profit.

Specialist recruiter SThree (STHR) skips 9p higher to 301p on news of an encouraging start to the new year, with gross profit up 9% in the seasonally quiet first quarter ended 28 February.

CEO Gary Elden is pleased to see growth 'in both Contract and Permanent, with a particularly strong performance in Contract, driven by continued progress in our key markets, Continental Europe and the USA.’

UK pub operator EI Group (EIG) edges 2.5% ahead to 206p after launching a further £35m share buyback after raking in bumper commercial property portfolio disposal proceeds.

Proton Power Systems (PPS:AIM) sparks up 9.4% to 8.75p as the alternative energy tiddler agrees to form a venture in the Czech Republic with Skoda Electric to develop fuel cell electric buses.

Software company Oxford Metrics (OMG:AIM) is marked up 2.4% to 85p on the news its motion measurement unit Vicon has inked a contract with Sandbox VR to target the high growth Location-based Virtual Reality market.

Symphony Environmental Technologies (SYM:AIM) ticks up 4.4% to 6p, despite posting a fall in full year profit, as investors applaud an increase in research and development spend on its biodegradable plastics technology.


Issue Date: 15 Mar 2019