Gold bullion on american dollar banknotes close up

2.20pm: Novacyt shares in demand … and so is its coronavirus diagnostic kit

Novacyt SA (LON:NCYT), up 24% at 50p, said there had been “unprecedented interest” in its coronavirus diagnostic launched a week ago.

Its unit Primedesign has already received orders for 33,000 tests and requests for quotations for another 32,000 from over 30 countries. It has a high conversion rate from such interest.

In the same update, Novacyt SAid it had applied to the US Food & Drug Administration for emergency use approval. Here in Europe, it is planning to launch a CE-Mark approved version of the kit later this month that can be used for clinical diagnostic testing rather than just screening.

2.15pm: Hastings Group gets a lift from Morgan Stanley upgrade; broker changes help others too

Hastings Group Holdings PLC (LON:HSTG) got a lift on Friday afternoon as Morgan Stanley upgraded its rating for the FTSE 250-listed firm to ‘overweight; from ‘equal-weight’ in a review of the UK motor insurance sector.

Morgan Stanley also raised its target price for Hastings to180p to 220p, with the shares currently trading at 188.10p, up 2.2% on Thursday’s close.

The US investment bank’s analysts said: “Liquidity constraints could mean Hastings shares move before investors are able to build a position if the UK motor market starts to harden.”

A number of other stocks also found support from broker upgrades on Friday. Vodafone PLC (LON:VOD) added 2.4% at 154.62p as Jefferies upped its rating to ‘buy’ from ‘hold’ after looking at two tracks the mobiles company could take to boost its valuation.

The US investment bank’s analysts hiked their target price for the FTSE 100-listed firm to 176p from 144p, which they say offers 22% upside, including the dividend, on a one-year view.

Meanwhile, Berenberg boosted Mitchells & Butlers PLC (LON:MAB) shares 1.5% higher to 410p after returning their rating for the pubs group to ‘buy’ from ‘hold’, having downgraded in November last year on valuation grounds.

The German bank’s analysts said the re-upgrade follows around a15% pull-back in the shares, with its target price unchanged at 480p.

And an RBC Capital upgrade to ‘Top Pick’ propelled Huntsworth PLC (LON:HNT) shares 4.3% higher to 68p, with the Canadian bank repeating a 130p target price on the small-cap communications group, which they think could be a takeover candidate.

RBC’s analysts concluded: “An acquisition premium of up to 70% could still generate good returns for these buyers.”

1.20pm: Totally boosted by Manchester hospital gig

Totally PLC (LON:TLY), the hospital services outsourcer, rose 6.6% to 15.25p after it bagged a new contract.

Its wholly-owned subsidiary, About Health, a provider of dermatology and referral management services to the National Health Service, has been awarded a new contract to provide community dermatology services to Manchester & Trafford Clinical Commissioning Groups.

The contract will run for a period of three years, with an option to extend for a further two years, and is worth about £8.4mln.

12.30pm: COO at JOG tops up his stake

The share price of Jersey Oil and Gas PLC (LON:JOG) jogged 6p higher to 108p the company’s chief operating officer upped his stake.

Ronald Lansdell purchased 13,590 shares at 103p a pop.

His stake has now risen to 1.01mln shares, equivalent to 4.64% of the issued ordinary share capital of Jersey Oil & Gas.

11.30am: XLMedia as non-exec buys again

For the second day in a row, non-executive director Ory Weihs has put his hand in his pocket and bought shares in XLMedia PLC (LON:XLM), the digital performance marketing services provider.

The shares have virtually halved over the last three weeks as the company wrestles with problems over plummeting rankings for many of its sites on the Google search engine.

The shares rallied 3.5% to 30p today as Weihs bought 250,000 shares at 29p a pop.

10.30am: Audioboom makes a noise as chairman lends it a few bob

A new US$4mln secured loan facility arrangement for podcast company Audioboom Group PLC (LON:BOOM) sent the shares 11% higher to 235p on Friday morning.

The facility has been provided by SPV Investments, a special purpose vehicle owned equally by Tobin Ventures Limited (which is owned by Michael Tobin, the company’s chairman) and Candy Ventures (the company’s largest shareholder).

The company’s statement hinted that the market – and the company’s shareholders – had become tired of the company funding itself through share issues that have led to existing shareholders seeing their holdings diluted.

9.30am: Countrywide hit by delay to the sale of its commercial property arm

A delay in the proposed sale of its Lambert Smith Hampton business wiped 4.6% off the share price of estate agents Countrywide PLC (LON:CWD) in early trade on Friday.

The shares slid to 347.40p as the company said completion of the transaction had been delayed as the purchaser, John Bengt Moeller, has been indisposed and unable to get his hands on the cash.

“We have been reassured by Mr Moeller that completion is imminent. The company continues to work with Mr Moeller to resolve this situation urgently and is taking all necessary steps to achieve completion as soon as possible,” Countrywide said.

READ Countrywide sells off commercial property arm Lambert Smith Hampton

In contrast, Watchstone Group PLC (LON:WTG) has completed the sale of PT Healthcare Solutions – not that it did the share price much good, as it slipped 4.5p to 145.50p.

The technology company, formerly known as Quindell, announced the sale of its Canadian healthcare services business for C$36.2mln (£22.3mln) back in September of last year.

The company has been updating the market on the (lack of) progress of the sale on an almost monthly basis since the original announcement.

Proactive news headlines:

accesso Technology Group PLC (LON:ASCO) said it was notified on 6 February 2020 that its recently returned chief executive officer, Steve Brown purchased 198,000 ordinary shares in the company on 6 February 2020, at an average price of 390p each. The group noted that, following this purchase, Brown now holds an interest of 514,774 accesso ordinary shares, representing approximately 1.86% of the company’s issued share capital and has 582,567 options over ordinary shares.

Jersey Oil & Gas PLC (LON:JOG), an independent upstream oil and gas company ‎focused on the UK Continental Shelf region of the North Sea, said it has been notified that its chief operating officer, Ronald Landsell on 6 February 2020 acquired 13,590 ordinary shares in the company, at a price of 1.03p each, taking his holding in the company to 1,013,590 ordinary shares, representing 4.64% of the company’s issued share capital.

DP Poland PLC (LON:DPP), which operates the Domino’s Pizza brand in Poland, saw like-for-like sales growth accelerate sharply in the second half of 2019. System sales over the whole year rose 13% to 82mln zloty (PLN) from 72mln PLN in 2018. Like-for-like (LFL) sales were up 3% year-on-year with the second half of 2019 seeing LFL growth of 6%.

G3 Exploration Ltd (LON:G3E) chairman Randeep Grewal has told investors that the China-headquartered company’s operations are continuing without any interruption related to the coronavirus. “I am happy to report, no employee has been infected by the coronavirus till date and we expect to maintain prudence to avoid exposure until the virus is contained,” Grewal said in a statement. “The group activities are ongoing without interruption,” he added.

Sirius Minerals PLC (LON:SXX) said it has set up a shareholder helpline as it also laid out the process and timetable towards the anticipated completion of the company’s takeover by Anglo American plc (LON:AAL). At the peak, more than 80,000 individual private shareholders had shares in the Yorkshire mine developer, and many of those were believed to be either first time or relatively inexperienced investors.

NQ Minerals PLC (NEX:NQMI) (OTCMKTS:NQMLF) said the authorities in Tasmania have approved the company’s acquisition of the Mt Block permit around the firm’s flagship Hellyer base and precious metals project. The 46 square-kilometre area effectively triples NQ’s footprint. “This tenement is underexplored and has the potential to host new mineralisation close to NQ’s Hellyer processing plant,” said NQ chairman David Lenigas.

i3 Energy PLC’s (LON:I3E) chair David Knox is leaving the North Sea oil and gas firm to oversee Australia’s largest renewable energy provider. The company, in a statement, noted that Knox took on the role of chairperson at Snowy Hydro Limited and he is now stepping down from the I3 board and departing to focus on this new role during a critical and trying time in Australia. Linda Beal will be i3’s interim chair whilst a formal search for Knox’s replacement is undertaken.

SDX Energy PLC (LON:SDX), the MENA-focused oil and gas company, has announced the appointment of Catherine Stalker as an independent non-executive director with effect from 6 February 2020. The group noted that Stalker is an experienced non-executive director and consultant to the boards of FTSE companies, public sector bodies, regulators, pension funds and not-for-profits. It said she is currently a partner at Independent Audit Limited, a leading board evaluation firm with offices in London, Brussels and Dublin, and sits on the boards of two subsidiaries of DTEK, a Dutch energy company with vertically integrated assets in Ukraine. Michael Doyle, SDX’s non-executive chairman commented: “Her experience on Boards and in the fields of governance and energy will be invaluable to us as we drive the business forward in what is due to be a particularly busy year with the drill bit.”

Salt Lake Potash Limited (LON:SO4) (ASX:SO4) said it has now completed the placement of 33.6 million new ordinary shares in the company, to raise gross proceeds of A$23.5mln, first announced on 6 December 2020. The group said the second tranche has been completed following shareholder approval at a General Meeting held on 29 January 2020. The issue comprised 678,571 ordinary shares placed at a price of A$0.70 per share, including 428,571 shares subscribed for by the CEO, Tony Swiericzuk, and 250,000 shares by the company’s chairman, Ian Middlemas.

Integumen PLC (LON:SKIN) announced that it will be participating in Britain’s largest one-day investor event, the Global Group UK Investor Show on Saturday 25 April at the QEII Centre in Westminster, London. The group said its CEO Gerard Brandon, will be speaking at 11:40am in room Slater and C-Level management, members of Rinocloud and Labskin, will be manning Stall 15 all day, so there will be an opportunity to meet the team and ask your questions face to face.

Open Orphan PLC (LON:ORPH), the rapidly growing specialist CRO pharmaceutical services company which has a focus on orphan drugs and is a world leader in the provision of virology and vaccine challenge study services, announced that the company will be attending and presenting at the Shares Growth and Invention Forum on February 11, 2020 at the Business Design Centre, London N1, London, N1 0QH. It said its executive chairman Cathal Friel will be presenting at 3:30pm in the Babbage Room at the centre to update existing and potential investors on the company’s business plans for 2020.