UK investors were in ‘wait and see’ mode ahead of a huge week for markets, with central banks in the UK, Europe, Japan and the US set to guide on the future path of interest rates.
On Wednesday the US Federal Reserve is expected to announce it will accelerate ‘tapering’ or reducing its support for financial markets and to issue guidance on when it will raise rates, while on Thursday the Bank of England, the ECB and the Bank of Japan are set to brief markets on interest rate policy.
Meanwhile, sterling dipped to $1.3220 against the dollar on fears of a ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron infections impacting UK consumer confidence.
At 8.30am the FTSE 100 was absolutely flat at 7,291 points as weakness in consumer and industrial stocks outweighed gains for miners.
Outsourcing firm Capita (CPI) posted a rise of just 1% in group revenues for the 11 months to November as Covid continued to impact some of its businesses and it saw lower sales in its Experience division, sending its shares to the bottom of the FTSE 250 loser board down 8% to 41.5p.
On a positive note, the firm continued to strengthen its balance sheet with the sale of its Secure Solutions and Services division and its specialist insurance business, bringing disposal proceeds to £620 million against a target of £700 million by next June.
However, its bust-up with National Grid continues to rumble on with the firm now conceding it expects the contract to result in an overall cash outflow, sending the shares down 7.5% to 47.9p.
Shares drifted off 0.8% to £13.44 after the firm also revealed chief financial officer Laura Carr would leave for pastures new next June.
There was happier news from geotechnical contractor Keller (KLR) which announced its Texas-based subsidiary RECON had won a $160 million contract for the development of an energy facility on the US Gulf Coast, lifting the shares 4.4% to 944p.
The firm called the two-year contract ‘a notable win’ and said it saw ‘significant potential for further similar projects in the USA especially along the Gulf Coast region’.
Shares in online estate agency Purplebricks (PURP) collapsed 12% to 27.7p after the firm announced a delay to its half year results which were due tomorrow after discovering a 'process issue' with deposit registrations.
The company said it was putting aside up to £9 million to cover potential future claims, although one source put the potential costs much higher.
Specialist staffing firm SThree (STEM) posted a positive trading update for the year to November with group net fees up 25% in the final three months marking three consecutive quarters of above-20% growth.
Net fee income in the fourth quarter was also 16% above the same period of 2019, demonstrating the firm’s ability to grow during the Covid crisis, although investors sought to book profits after the 80%-plus rise in the shares this year, leaving the stock 3.5% lower at 527p.
Infection control company Tristel (TSTL:AIM) released a trading update ahead of its annual general meeting later today saying it expected first half revenues of more than £15 million, similar to last year’s figure once inventory adjustments were taken into account, lifting the shares 0.8% to 489p.
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