Leading UK shares endured a volatile morning on Thursday after an earlier rally following positive corporate earnings updates fizzled out, before stocks picked up steam again shortly after midday.

After a bruising day yesterday linked to cryptocurrency volatility and inflation fears, with Bitcoin falling to $30,000 before recovering to $40,000, investors continue to be split between reopening optimism and inflation concerns.

Having rallied early on and then fallen into the red for an hour, shortly after midday the UK’s benchmark FTSE 100 index had gained 0.26% to 6,968.55, while the midcap FTSE 250 index had risen 0.33% to 22,307.36.

EARLY MOVERS FIZZLE OUT

Among the major stock movers earlier in the morning were defence technology company Qinetiq (QQ.), which jumped after a positive earnings update, while home improvement retailer Kingfisher (KGF) also rose after it raised its first-half profit outlook.

But after a strong earlier gain, by midday Qinetiq shares were trading just 0.5% higher to 327.8p, while Kingfisher shares fell into the red after an earlier bounce to trade 0.6% lower at 374p.

It came after Kingfisher upgraded its outlook on first-half and annual profit after reporting a jump in sales in the first quarter of the year as strong demand continued.

The company now expects mid-to-high teens group like-for-like sales growth in the first-half versus low double-digits previously. Adjusted pre-tax profit is now anticipated in the range of £580 million to 600 million.

Qinetiq meanwhile reported a 19% increase in revenue for the year ended 31 March, and a 14% rise in its underlying pre-tax profit, despite the pressures of Covid-19.

Orders were up 18% during the period, and the company said it has approximately £800 million in revenue under contract for FY22.

NATWEST UPGRADED

Banks were soggy on Thursday although Natwest (NWG) went against the grain, adding 0.3% to 198.6p, as RBC upgraded the stock to ‘outperform’.

Budget airline EasyJet (EZJ) said it is readying 90% of its plane fleet as it bets on a pick-up in demand from June despite the ongoing uncertainty around travel, but its stock fell 1.5% to 968.2p as it reported wider first-half losses.

Half-year pre-tax losses jumped more than 80% to £645 million year-on-year as revenue slumped 89.9% to £240 million.

DIVIDEND STOCKS TO WATCH

National Grid (NG.) rose 1.4% to 943.1p after reporting underlying pre-tax profit of £2.4 billion for the year ended 31 March 2021. That was down 3% when compared with the year before, due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions over the past 12 months.

The all-important dividend was increased 1% to 49.16p.

Royal Mail (RMG) stock fell 1.2% to 518.6p despite announcing a 10p one-off dividend on the back of a 116% profits jump for the year to 31 March 2021.

Asset manager Liontrust (LIO) jumped 3.5% to £15.88 after saying that it expected revenues to be ahead and adjusted profit pre-tax profit to be ‘significantly’ ahead of market expectations amid strong than expected performance fees.

RAIL SHAKE-UP

Transport companies were knocked back after plans for the biggest UK rail shake-up in years were announced. Trainline (TRN) saw its shares plunge 22.6% to 331.2p after plans for a new centralised, government-run organisation that would include ticket buying.

Components and solutions provider Essentra (ESNT) said positive momentum seen in the first quarter of the year had continued. The share price rose 0.4% to 331.3p.

Watches of Switzerland (WOSG) slipped 1.8% to 756p despite reporting an 11.7% increase in revenue to £905.1 million for the 53 weeks to 2 May 2021.

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Issue Date: 20 May 2021