UK stocks slump

Tue, 25th Feb 2020

The measure of calm that descended on London markets in early trade on Tuesday failed to last with UK shares diving into the red again by the close. At 16:30, the benchmark FTSE 100 had slumped 1.9% to 7,016.49, while the FTSE 250 flagged by a similar margin to 20,727. This followed Monday's huge sell-off and heavy falls in Far East stock markets overnight. Shares in Japan fell sharply as investors continue to be spooked by the spread of the coronavirus following a public holiday on Monday. Japan's Nikkei 225 index lost 4.5% when it re-opened, although it managed to plug some of those losses by the close of trading to end 3.3% lower. The slump followed a global stock market plunge on Monday with Wall Street and London markets suffering some of their sharpest drops since January 2016. The three main indexes in the US fell by between 3% and 4%, while the UK's FTSE 100 closed 3.3% lower. CORONAVIRUS ARRIVES IN TENERIFE News this afternoon that 1,000 tourists have been quarantined in Tenerife, Canary Islands after being diagnosed with the Coronavirus hit travel company Dart Group (DTG) which generates half its revenues from Spain. The shares dived 12.6% lower to £14.4. PRU TARGETED BY HEDGE FUND In corporate news, insurance giant Prudential (PRU) found itself in the sights of a US hedge fund, which wants to close the Pru's head office. A US hedge fund has taken a $2bn (£1.6bn) stake in Prudential and now wants to close its UK head office. Third Point, a hedge fund run by shareholder activist Daniel Loeb, has taken a £1.6bn stake in the UK insurer and claims the Pru could save £200m a year by shutting the doors to its UK HQ, news that investors appear to support on paper. The shares nudged up 0.04% to £14.2. Third Point is reported to have handed the Pru's top brass a letter in which it sets out a series of demands. Prudential confirmed on Tuesday that it has opened talks with Third Point and plans to update shareholders on 11 March, when it reports full year results. Defence contractor Meggitt (MGGT) was among the FTSE 100's biggest fallers after sliding 5.7% to 560.6p following the announcement that chairman Nigel Rudd plans to stand down to spend more time on other businesses and interests. Rudd, who was appointed chairman in 2015, will stay in position until a replacement is found. WEAKENING DEMAND Subdued trading hit chemicals company Croda (CRDA) after it reported a lower annual profit and said its performance in the current year would be second half weighted, frequently a leading profit miss indicator. Croda shares dropped 2.5% to £47.9. Building materials supplier SIG slumped 18.3% to 68.2p following the shock departures of chief executive Meinie Oldersma and chief financial officer Nick Maddock. SIG downgraded its earnings guidance last month and said on Monday that adverse trading trends were continuing. Engineering company Ricardo (RCDO) sank 7.4% to 704p after it reported a 19% fall in first half profit and warned that its full year performance would be hurt materially by the impact of the coronavirus on the automotive and rail sectors. Investment trust Pollen Street Secured Lending (PSSL) saw its share price rally 7% to 886p after revealing talks about a possible takeover of the fund by Waterfall Asset Management. Real estate investment firm Hammerson (HMSO) reported an 11.2% drop in net rental income for 2019 to £308.5m, from £347.5m in the previous year. The property business lamented a difficult retail environment in the UK. Hammerson's pre-tax losses rose to £573.8m, up from £173.3m in 2018. The firm said occupancy of retail spaces continued to be high at 97.2%, the same as in 2018. Hammerson shares rallied 2.3% higher to 227.3p. TESCO SELLS CHINA STAKE Supermarket giant Tesco (TSCO) slipped 2.9% to 242.2p after it sold its 20% share in Chinese retailer Gain Land to joint venture partner China Resources, generating cash proceeds of around £275m. AstraZeneca (AZN) sank 1.9% to £73, after selling the global rights to a constipation drug, excluding Europe, Canada and Israel, to RedHill Biopharma for $67.5m. Oil services company Petrofrac (PFC) reversed earlier losses to run 0.6% ahead at 360.5p as it reported a rise in annual profit that was nevertheless limited by falling revenue and substantial write-downs. Bank notes printer De La Rue (DLAR) jumped 21% to 147.7p after detailing a turnaround plan designed to slash cost and bolster profits. Specialist product manufacturer Morgan Advanced Materials (MGAM) added 1.7% to 294p after booking a 16% rise in annual profit, as sales inched higher and cost efficiencies bolstered margins. Story provided by StockMarketWire.com

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