A rebound in oil prices after a container ship blocked the Suez Canal helped the FTSE 100 finish in positive territory on Wednesday following a jittery start.

By the close, the blue chip benchmark was 0.2% higher at 6,712.89 with oil majors Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) and BP (BP.) both catching a bid, gaining 1.4% to £13.87 and 2% to 301.6p respectively.

BALLY’S BETS ON GAMESYS

In corporate news, online bingo operator Gamesys (GYS) surged 18.4% higher to £19.44 after US casinos operator Bally’s agreed terms on a £2 billion merger.

Safety equipment maker Halma (HLMA) gained 2.3% to £23.59 as it lifted its outlook on annual adjusted profit following ‘good progress’ in the second half of the year thanks to a further recovery in China.

Adjusted pre-tax profit for its 2021 financial year is expected to be similar to that of last year, compared to prior guidance of around 5% below its 2020 year, the company said.

Housebuilder Bellway (BWY) fell 2.3% to £34.13 as it reported a fall in first-half profit on lower margins, but it did reinstate its dividend on an upbeat outlook for the year.

For the half year ended 31 December, pre-tax profit fell to £280.2 million from £291.8 million year-on-year, while revenue increased 11.6% to £1.72 billion. Volume grew 6.3% to a record 5,656 homes, but the operating margin fell to 17.3%, from 19.3%.

Looking ahead, the company expects to sell 10,000 homes, up from 5,321 homes last year, with margins expected to be around 17%. The interim dividend was reinstated at 35p per share.

SOFTCAT SOARS

IT infrastructure provider Softcat (SCT) soared 14.5% to £17.85 after its first-half profit jumped 41% and it upgraded annual guidance as its customer base grew.

Pre-tax profit for the six months through January increased to £57 million, up from £40.5 million year-on-year, as revenue climbed 10% to £577 million. Softcat declared an interim dividend of 6.4p per share, up 19% year-on-year.

The company’s customer base rose 1.5% to 9,600, which it said came despite the ongoing challenges of remote working. ‘The second half has begun well and the board is confident the company will deliver a full-year result significantly ahead of its previous expectations,’ Softcat said.

Distributor Diploma (DPLM) edged 1% higher to £25.60 after a strong first-half performance that topped its expectations, driven by a boost from acquisitions and cost cuts.

For the six months ending 31 March 2021, underlying revenue is expected to be in line with the pre-Covid prior year period, and reported revenues are expected to be up 27%, reflecting a strong contribution from acquisitions.

Operating margin for the full-year expectations to be within the upper end of its guidance range. Current market consensus for the year ending 30 September 2021 is for the company to generate revenue of £742 million and adjusted operating profit of £133 million.

OTHER NEWS

Shares in Travis Perkins (TPK) perked up 1% to £16 after the builders’ merchant resumed the demerger process of its DIY chain Wickes, which it plans to spin out and list on the main market.

Auto dealer Pendragon (PDG) reversed 4.9% to 17.5p, having posted a consecutive full-year loss after sales were dented by the pandemic. Pendragon’s pre-tax losses for the year through December amounted to £29.6 million, compared to year-on-year losses of £114.1 million, as sales skidded 35% to £2.92 billion.

Independent publisher Bloomsbury Publishing (BMY) jumped 11.2% to 298p as it said it expects annual revenue and profit to be ‘significantly ahead’ of upgraded market expectations on exceptional sales performance in February as the reading boom continued. ‘The popularity of reading during lockdown is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise very dark last year,’ the company said.

And kettle safety controls group Strix (KETL:AIM) steamed 7.7% higher to 280p as it said a strong second-half performance had continued into the current year.

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Issue Date: 24 Mar 2021