UK stocks headed into the weekend on a decidedly down note after US markets fell for a third day on Thursday. The Nasdaq 100 index is already down on the year and back to November levels while S&P 500 is barely in positive territory.

The FTSE 100 index dropped by 60 points or 0.8% to 6,590 in the first half hour of trading with financial stocks and miners bearing the brunt of the selling.

On the other hand, crude prices spiked as the OPEC+ group of oil producers surprised the market by deciding to maintain their supply limits. Markets had expected the cartel to resume production of up 1.5 million barrels per day.

As a result, Brent futures spiked 2% to $68 per barrel, and with US shale producers unable to raise production analysts are pencilling in $80 for North Sea oil for the third quarter of this year. However, shares in oil majors such as BP (BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) failed to respond.

COMPANY NEWS

Shares in London Stock Exchange (LSE) were the worst performers on the FTSE, losing 4.3% to £90.82 in spite of a resilient performance in 2020 and an increase in the final dividend.

The company posted a 6% rise in total income thanks to a strong performance from its London Clearing House operations, while revenues from the FTSE Russell business were hampered by a fall in ETF asset levels in the first half.

In contrast, testing equipment maker Spirent (SPT) was one of the biggest gainers, leaping 7% to 245p after it announced the acquisition of US company octoScope for an itial $55 million.

OctoScope, which provides test solutions to the wirelss telecom industry, generated revenues of around $20 million last year.

Shares in medical products maker Convatec (CTEC) were also among the best performers, gaining 3.8% to 196p after the firm reported ‘solid growth and good strategic progress’ in the year to December.

Revenues were 3.7% higher due to growth in Infusion Care and Continence & Critical Care despite a resurgence of Covid in the final quarter.

Temporary power provider Aggreko (AGK) said it was recommending an offer of 880p in cash from US private equity firms I Squared and TDR Capital, unchanged from the terms revealed a month ago.

Shares gained 1.2% to 900p, after popping 8% yesterday in anticipation of the news.

Component and tool-maker Essentra (ESNT) shares added 0.3% to 302pas revenues for the last year met market expectations and the firm flagged almost flat sales on a like for like basis in the final quarter.

However, the firm cautioned that the recent appreciation of the pound, particularly against the dollar and the euro, ‘is causing a headwind in the year thus far’.

Retail group Frasers (FRAS) also had a warning for shareholders, following the Chancellor’s latest decision on business rates. The firm described the new support package which lasts until next March as ‘near worthless’, saying it would make it ‘nearly impossible to take on ex-Debenhams sites with the inherent jobs created’.

The company went further, saying it would ‘need to review our entire portfolio to ascertain stores that are unviable due to unrealistic business rates’. Shares eased 0.7% to 461p.

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Issue Date: 05 Mar 2021