UK shares nudge lower in early trade on Thursday with a quiet session anticipated on the macro economic front, while corporate earnings announcements remain mixed. Several blue-chip stocks going ex-dividend also drags on the London market. The FTSE 100 is trading down around 20 points, or 0.3%, at 6,928 early on, although midcaps buck the weak blue-chip trend, edging a fraction up to 17,863.
On the corporate news front, a 24-hour strike by technicians and journalists at broadcaster ITV (ITV) weighs on sentiment, pulling the shares 1.2% lower to 256.9p, offsetting otherwise impressive net ad revenues. The Downton Abbey producer saw 14% growth in net ad income for the three months to March.
Mining giant Vedanta (VED) slides 1.8% to 648p as it swings into the red for the year to March, chalking up a huge $5.64 billion pre-tax loss. The switch from the previous year's $1.12 billion profit comes after the group racks up $6.74 billion of 'special items.'
Innovatively marketed bookie Paddy Power (PAP) rises close on 2% to 79.32p as it tells investors that 2015 has got off to a winning start. While sports results have been unfavourable across the sector, this was offset by strong top-line growth, particularly in Australia.
But a number of blue-chip stocks provide downward pull on the market after going ex-dividend, including Aberdeen Asset Management (ADN), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), plus retailers Kingfisher (KGF) and Sainsbury (SBRY).
Among the bigger movers, New World Oil & Gas (NEW:AIM) jumps 33% to 0.38p despite denying knowledge of why. The stock has been surrounded by City and internet speculation over recent days. The company holds its AGM on 19 May.
But falling badly in the mining minnow space is Kodal Minerals (KOD:AIM), down 17% to 0.19p, as it plans to raise £400,000 at 0.18p a share after identifying previously un-mined mineralised bodies on its Grimeli Project after drilling results.
Ferrum Crescent (FCR:AIM) is also down sharply, losing 27% to 0.55p, as it too hopes to raise more cash from investors. Ferrum wants £500,000 via a private placing at 0.5p a share, a 19% discount to last night's 0.62p close.
StratMin (STGR:AIM) is popular though, up 10% to 5.38p as it reveals overall average carbon grade of 94.3% in graphite production carried out over an eight day period.
Elsewhere, Manchester-headquartered automotive retailer Lookers (LOOK) adds a quarter of a penny at 157p on a strong first quarter trading update, highlighting 'excellent results' from its motor and parts divisions and ongoing margin improvements in all areas of the business.
Private equity group 3i (III) heads up the FTSE 100 gainers as it delivers a 14% increase in net asset value for the year to the end of March and makes good on a promise to return surplus capital to shareholders. Dividends paid and proposed for the year total 20p, helping shares climb 2.3% higher to 524p.
Frankie & Benny's owner Restaurant Group (RTN) tumbles 3.8% to 692p after its trading update reveals like-for-like sales growth of just 2% in the 19 weeks to 10 May, down from 4% the previous year. It has opened nine new restaurants, compared with 15 the prior year. It says the improving film schedule and easier comparatives in the last four months of the year will build momentum in the second half.
All Bar One-owner Mitchells & Butlers (MAB) falls 0.8% to 444p after its operating margin slips to 13.7% in the 28 weeks to 11 April from 14.5% the previous year due to the integration of Orchid pubs and food sales growth being driven by volume rather than spend per head. Chief executive Alistair Darby says the market remains challenging despite growing consumer confidence.
Theme park operator Merlin Entertainments (MERL) gains 0.7% to 456.3p on a 3.3% rise in like-for-like revenue in the 18 weeks to 2 May helped by favourable weather and the positive impact of new products and features. The group is positive for the full year but says a weaker euro could reduce the number of Eurozone visitors to the UK. The Legoland owner has created a 'new openings group' and changed its executive management team, which analysts suggest could accelerate its rate of expansion.
Engineer Redhall (RHL:AIM) gains 14.9% to 11.2p as it offloads its downstream oil and gas division to energy specialist Cape (CIU) in a deal valued at £6 million. Shares in Cape fall slightly to 256p.
Elsewhere in the construction sector, beleaguered peer Balfour Beatty (BBY) is more or less holding the line at 241.8p after an AGM trading update reported progress on the group's self-help programme.
Meanwhile in the construction materials segment, SIG (SHO), a distributor of specialist building products, dips 2.4% to 206.1p after the group reported a general election-related drag on earnings in March and April with flat like-for-like revenues in the first four months of 2015.