UK stocks opened sharply lower on Monday as rising virus cases took the shine off so called ‘Freedom Day’, with travel and leisure stocks reversing Friday’s gains.

Weaker oil prices saw oil giants BP (BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) falling 2% and 1,7% respectively.

Brent Crude prices fell 1.5% to $72.5 per barrel and Gold fell 0.3% to $1,806 per ounce.

Asian stocks were weak overnight with Japan’s Nikkei 225 losing 1.25% and China’s SE Composite off 0.2%.

At 9am the FTSE 100 index of leading stocks was down 1.4% to 6,910 points.

CORPORATE NEWS

Shares in online grocery delivery firm Ocado (OCDO) dropped 3% to £17.50 after a collision between three robots at its Erith customer fulfilment facility had caused a small fire over the weekend.

Three years ago a fire at the firm's Andover CFC severely impacted operations, but this time the damage was said to be limited.

Gambling group Flutter Entertainment (FLTR) said it had completed a debt debt re-financing transaction that would reduce its effective cost of debt and provide it with additional liquidity.

The key components of the transaction also included a repricing and upsizing of the group's existing term loan B facility by $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion).

As a result of the transaction, the company estimated that the group's weighted average cash cost of debt will fall from 4.2% at 31 December 2020 to approximately 2.5%. The shares dropped 1.4% to £120.22.

US fund management group Pershing Square Holdings (PSHD) said it had decided to withdraw its offer to acquire 10% of  French group Vivendi’s Universal Music Group because of issues raised by the US regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company said it will now seek alternative business combinations. The shares dropped 1.4% to £25.74.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZN) said its drug lung cancer drug Imfinzi had been approved in China.

The approval was based on a phase 3 study showing imfinzi plus chemotherapy demonstrated a ‘statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in overall survival versus chemotherapy alone,’ the company said. The shares dropped 0.7% to £82.85.

HEALTHY GAINS

Healthcare company BB Healthcare Trust (BBH) reported a rise in net asset value for the six months to 31 May of 6.9%, while its shares registered a gain of 5.7%.

The company's shares delivered a total return of 8.3%, besting the MSCI World Healthcare index return of 3.2%. The company said pre-tax profit dropped 29% to £59.5 million on lower investment gains. The shares nudged up 0.1% to 194.3p.

PROFIT UPGRADES

Shares in delivery solutions provider DX (DX.:AIM) surged 7% higher to 34.2p after the company upgraded its profit forecast for the year amid 'strong' ongoing momentum at DX freight that had exceeded management expectations and good progress at DX express.

For the 53 weeks ended 3 July 2021, the company now expected to significantly exceed existing market forecasts for adjusted pre-tax profit within a range of £10.0 million to £10.3 million.

Also increasing guidance today was specialist recruitment company SThree (STEM:AIM) which raised its annual forecasts after first-half profit more than doubled thanks to better market conditions and elevated contractor working hours.

Pre-tax profit for the six months through May increased to £27.7 million, up from £13.6 million year-on-year on revenues 10% higher to £164.3 million. The shares dipped 0.3% to 468.5p.

Recently listed Parsley Box (MEAL:AIM), which provides ready meals for the older generation, said first half revenues increased 26% to £14 million. The company ended the half with £6.5 million in cash after raising £5 million when it came to market.

The company said it had begun to see a normalisation in shopping behaviours as government restrictions were eased, hitting the shares which dropped 11% to 150p.

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Issue Date: 19 Jul 2021