The FTSE started the week on the back foot, giving up its morning gains as with few major company announcements or macro-economic events due traders scrabbled around for focus.
Despite the lack of big market-moving news, there were healthy gains for several mid- and small-cap firms which raised earnings guidance.
In the US, a cyber-attack on a company managing a vital east-coast oil pipeline boosted crude prices, with Brent futures moving back towards $69 per barrel, while gold prices looked comfortable around $1,835 per ounce and silver continued its recent rally.
Sterling breached the $1.40 level for the first time since February as the US dollar suffered a fall on international markets.
At the close the FTSE 100 index was down by 6 points to 7,124, with gains for miners and banks more than offset by losses for technology-related and travel and leisure stocks.
Shares in food-on-the-go purveyor Greggs (GRG) jumped 10.5% to a new high of £25.91 after the company reported a ‘significant’ pick-up in sales once its shops were able to re-open on 12 April, with like-for-like growth up on the same period of 2019 as well as last year.
The firm predicted that, as long as restrictions continued to ease in line with current plans, overall sales for the year would be higher than forecast and earnings would be ‘materially higher’ than expected, potentially equalling their 2019 peak.
Up-market chocolatier Hotel Chocolat (HOTC:AIM) posted a 60% rise in sales for the eight weeks to 25 April, a period which includes Mother’s Day and Easter and represents the second-largest seasonal peak for the business.
Thanks to the strength of demand since its shops were allowed to re-open, the firm said it expected trading for the year to end-June to be ‘significantly ahead of expectations’, sending the shares up 8.6% to 350p.
Following better revenue and margin performance, the firm said it expected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to be in excess of £28 million, compared with February’s increased guidance of the top end of market expectations of £26.3 million. Shares gained 2.8% to 760p.
Audio-visual products distributor Midwich (MIDW:AIM) said trading in the first four months of 2021 was ‘significantly’ above last year’s levels, partly thanks to acquisitions which had given it a much stronger market position.
As a result, the firm said full year revenues and profits would be ‘comfortably ahead’ of its original expectations and it would resume dividend payments, starting with a 3p per share payment in July. Shares initially leapt 15% to 533p in response but had eased back to 465p by the close, a gain of 6.5%.
Thanks to a stronger-than-expected second quarter, which saw an 11% rise in revenues and a 16.8% increase in occupancy rates, chief executive Frederic Vecchioli forecast full year earnings per share of between 37p and 38p compared with February’s raised guidance of above 34.6p, the top of analysts’ forecasts. Shares rose 8% to 942p.
Specialist chemical producer Victrex (VCT) posted a 5% rise in first half volume sales thanks to improving end-markets, while hinting there could be ‘upside’ to its full year targets without changing its forecasts.
The firm also reinstated its interim dividend, due to what it called a ‘solid and sustainable recovery’ in its business, sending the shares 8% higher to £25.48.
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