London shares continue their northbound direction in early on Wednesday with investor confidence spurred by relatively stable crude oil prices, with mining and financial stocks once again in favour ahead of perceived safe-haven assets. Europe was firmer, as were Wall Street and Asia overnight.
The benchmark FTSE 100 index makes modest gains of around 10 points, or 0.15%, but remaining comfortably above the 6,000 water mark at 6,162.
In corporate news, high street bank Virgin Money (VM.) advances 8.1% to 367.8p on pre-tax profits growing 53% to £160.3 million during 2015. The bank sold more mortgages and credit cards, while margins improved and costs fell to 63.6% of income from 72.5% in 12 months. Virgin is paying a 4.5p a share total dividend for the first full financial year as a listed company.
European white goods retailer Darty (DRTY) sparks up 9.3% to 126p on bid war excitement, as South Africa's Steinhoff International (SHFFp.J) makes a potential offer of 125p per share, higher than the current offer from Groupe Fnac (FNAC:PA) and cleaner too, being all in cash. We'll look at developments in more detail here shortly.
Testing and technical services firm Intertek (INTK) sheds 3.9% to £28.88, the biggest blue-chip faller, as it takes a £577 million non-cash charge on its oil and gas-facing Industry Services business. Underlying performance is solid, with sales increasing 1.6% and earnings per share gaining 4.7% at constant exchange rates.
Oil services firm Amec Foster Wheeler (AMFW) gains 10.8% in a relief rally as it successfully completes a refinancing of its debt. The new facilities with a syndicate of 20 banks have an unchanged interest cover covenant of more than 3.0 times, while the net debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) covenant is increased to less than 3.75 times for the first two years, reducing to less than 3.5 times thereafter. No capital repayments are required to be made until 2019.
There is more pain for investors in film and TV rights firm Entertainment One (ETO), down 10% to 155.6p as revenue from its film division falls 14% year-on-year in the nine months to 31 December 2015.
Oil company Madagascar Oil (MOIL:AIM) slumps 29% to 0.68p as it announces a rescue plan with its lenders which would require the cancellation of its AIM quote.
Improved margins and lower R&D spent pushes pre-tax profits ahead of expectations and shares 16.5% higher to 49.5p at medical technology specialist Inspiration Healthcare (IHC:AIM). Prelims for the year to 31 January will be posted on 28 April.
Diagnostic developer Akers Biosciences (AKR:AIM) shoots 12.8% higher to 110p on securing a $2.5 million deal to sell its tests for heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), a blood clotting condition, to Beijing‐based pharmaceutical NovoTek Therapeutics.
Vimto-supplier Nichols (NICL:AIM), a running Play of the Week, fizzes 70p (5.6%) higher to £13.20 on strong full-year results, taxable profits frothing 8.9% higher to £28 million with the help of 3.9% international sales growth, as well as a confident outlook statement.
Funeral services provider Dignity (DTY) dips 15p to £25.55 despite impressive finals showing improved taxable profits, cash generation and a 10% hike in the final dividend to 14.31p. 2015 was an abnormally high year for the number of deaths and Dignity reminds investors profit before tax for 2016 will be slightly down year-on-year as the mortality rate normalises to 2014 levels.