BT Group PLC (LON.BT.A) shares led the blue chip pack on Wednesday afternoon trading, up almost 3% to 122.6p after Rishi Sunak delivered the government’s new fiscal policies in the budget.  

The boost for the telecoms giant came via a pledge to invest in £5bn in superfast broadband and £510mln in improving mobile networks, especially in rural areas.

Chancellor Sunak’s pledge for a £27bn investment between 2020 and 2025 in more than 4,000 miles of roads, on top of investment in railways and stations, gave a boost to FTSE 250-listed Hill & Smith Holdings PLC (LON:HILS), a maker of crash barriers and other road safety infrastructure.

It shares took off as the budget was being delivered and by mid-afternoon were up more than 4% to 1,370p, while paving slabs and bollards maker Marshalls PLC (LON:MSLH) was up 3.5% to 690.5p.

Some pubs companies, such as JD Wetherspoon (LON:JDW) were briefly higher after the Chancellor’s freezed duty on all types of alcohol and unveiled measures to increase the business rates discount for pubs from £1,000 to £5,000, applicable for sites with a rateable value below £100,000 in England for one year from 1 April, but investors were taking a glass half empty view before long.

Spoons shares were down 1% to 1,184.9p, while rival pubco Marston’s PLC (LON:MARS) dropped 4% to 71.6p.

The pubs sector will benefit from these measures, said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, “although the challenge is still getting customers through the door in the first place amid increasing pressure on people to stay at home during the coronavirus crisis”.

He added that an individual company which appeared to get a significant Budget boost was book publisher Bloomsbury Publishing (LON:BMY) which gained 6% on news that VAT on digital books and magazines would be abolished, potentially providing a boost to sales.

Housebuilders largely shrugged off the budget’s promise of £12.2bn in grant funding for affordable homes across England and his revelation that the government will unveil “comprehensive reforms” of the planning system on Thursday.

The biggest riser was Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings PLC (LON:AML), though the reason was not immediately apparent. 

11.40am: HS2 construction groups Balfour and Kier bounce ahead of budget

Shares in Balfour Beatty plc (LON:BBY) and Kier Group PLC (LON:KIE) were rumbling higher as investors anticipated the government’s new Budget will open the floodgates on infrastructure spending.

Both Balfour, which was up 16% to 256.6p alongside a solid set of final results, and Kier, up 17% at  115.8p, are contractors on the government’s massive HS2 rail project.

FTSE 250-listed Balfour said two packages of HS2 work and the Old Oak Common station contract will add over £3bn to its order book in the first half of 2020, boosting the UK construction book by 40%.

However, Costain Group PLC (LON:COST), another HS2 contractor, tumbled 29% to 112.6p as it released its own annual numbers.

Costain’s revenues and profits for 2019 were both down year-on-year and the company revealed a plan to launch a £100mln fundraising.

The dividend was clipped to 3.8p per share from 15.15p and chief executive Alex Vaughan described it as a “year of transition” as the board works to reshape and refocus the business, noting its own £1.1bn worth of HS2 work in the order book.

10.45am: Morses dashes to all-time low after profit warning

Morses Club PLC (LON:MCL) shares screeched to an all-time low after the doorstep credit provider warned that profits will be a lot lower than expected.

Collections over the last 13 weeks have deteriorated, although worries about coronavirus were not mentioned by name, with greater use of remote collections.

As it shifts towards digital lending, with more than 78,000 customers using its portal, Morses highlighted “significant re-engineering” of its Dot Dot Loans and U Account acquisitions.

Among the others scraping the bottom on Wednesday was funerals provider Dignity PLC (LON:DTY), down 19% to 404p, not quite an all-time low for the shares but their worst levels in 15 years.

Profit before tax last year fell 31% to £37.7mln, the company’s results showed, which was worse than City analysts expected.

Dignity also said the investigation by the CMA could “materially impact the industry and the group” and so is delaying aspects of its transformation plan that will push back cost savings.

On coronavirus, the company said risk are “being assessed regularly” and the it has “business continuity and pandemic plans that are being assessed and adapted as necessary in case of need”.

9.20am: AorTech surges on device manufacturer deal

AorTech International plc (AOR) shares surged 27% to 94.5p in early trading on Wednesday as the medical polymer specialist snaffled up a specialist medical devices developer.

The AIM-listed outfit agreed to buy RUA Medical Devices, a full-service contract developer and manufacturer that specialises in implantable fabrics, for £1.5mln of shares and £0.95mln of cash.

AorTech, which will change its name to RUA Life Sciences, is buying the business from David Richmond, a non-executive director of the company, who will become chief executive if the deal is approved by shareholders.

Shares in Tiziana Life Sciences PLC (LON:TILS) were rocketing even faster, up more than 300% to 172.5p after it revealed plans to “expedite development” of a drug that it believes could help COVID-19 patients with severe lung damage.

The company’s TZLS-501 is a class of monoclonal antibody (mAb) called an anti-interleukin-6 receptor, or anti-IL6R for short.

With testing in China revealing anti-IL6R, currently approved for rheumatoid arthritis, has a role to play in treating patients, Tiziana said it will start assessing the drug in patients as soon as is practicable and will administer TZLS-501 using its proprietary formulation technology.

Greatland Gold PLC (LON:GGP) was another big riser as the explorer unveiled “one of the best set of drilling results” from its Havieron project in Western Australia since its farm-in partner Newcrest began exploration at the site.

Three recent holes showed in excess of 400 gold gram-metres and one result reporting 500 gold gram-metres with 82 metres (m) at 6.1 grammes of gold per tonne at a depth of 461m.

The company said drilling at the site was continuing to expand and demonstrate “the continuity of high-grade mineralisation” and that results to date supported potential for “both high-grade selective and bulk mining methods”.

Proactive news headlines:

Tiziana Life Sciences PLC (LON:TILS) (NASDAQ:TLSA) has said it is to “expedite development” of a drug that it believes could help COVID-19 patients with severe lung damage. The company’s TZLS-501 is a class of monoclonal antibody (mAb) called an anti-interleukin-6 receptor, or anti-IL6R for short. On-the-ground testing in China has revealed anti-IL6R mAbs, currently approved for rheumatoid arthritis, has a role to play in treating patients.

Greatland Gold PLC’s (LON:GGP) shares surged on Wednesday as the firm unveiled what it said were “outstanding drill results” from its Havieron project in Western Australia. The AIM-listed miner said the numbers represented “one of the best set of drilling results” at the project since its farm-in partner Newcrest began exploration at the site, with three holes reporting in excess of 400 gold gram-metres and one result reporting 500 gold gram-metres.

Europa Metals Ltd (LON:EUZ) has recorded its highest grades so far from the Toral project in north-west Spain in the latest two holes to be drilled. The drilling also confirmed a thick, high-grade zone outside the current confirmed resource area with grades of 17% zinc equivalent and a bumper section of more than 25% metal.

Touchstone Exploration Inc (LON:TXP) has released the latest impressive test results from the Cascadura-1ST1 well, in the Ortoire exploration block, which in aggregate has now delivered rates in excess of 10,000 barrels oil equivalent per day (boepd). Touchstone told investors that the test results support a possible initial production range of 7,750 to 9,700 boepd, including 1,100 to 1,400 barrels of gas liquids, which is significantly ahead of the company’s pre-drill expectations.

Gaming Realms PLC (LON:GMR) is launching its Slingo Originals content with Sky Betting & Gaming (SBG) in the UK and with DraftKings in the US state of New Jersey. Under the three-year deal with SBG, the mobile gambling games firm will make its Slingo Rainbow Riches content available on the platform’s Sky Vegas online casino, which will then be followed by a further roll-out of Slingo Originals content across other SBG sites. Meanwhile, under a separate three-year partnership with US digital sports entertainment and gaming firm DraftKings, Gaming Realms will provide Slingo Originals content for the company’s New Jersey site.

Immotion Group PLC (LON:IMMO) has sought to reassure investors around its continued trading amid the coronavirus outbreak, with the company’s chief executive saying the firm is “well placed” to deal with the crisis. In an update, the provider of ‘out of home’ virtual reality (VR) experiences said recent weekly trading patterns were in line with its expectations and that at this stage it had not seen “any overall impact” attributable to the virus.

88 Energy Ltd (LON:88E) has updated investors on the drilling operations for the Charlie-1 well, on Alaska’s North Slope. The well spud on 2 March and progress to date has seen the completion of the surface hole down to a depth of 3,500 feet, casing will now be set before the resumption of drilling.

OptiBiotix Health PLC (LON:OPTI) said it has modified its agreement with partner Sacco for its LPLDL cholesterol-lowering additive and extended it out to 2023. Instead of the original profit-sharing arrangement, it now becomes a manufacture and supply deal with pricing discounts for increasing sales volumes.

Red Rock Resources PLC (LON:RRR), the natural resource development company with interests in gold, manganese and minerals, is continuing to work on progressing its existing interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and reviewing new opportunities. In a statement, released after the market close on Tuesday, the company – which on 25 February 2020 announced that a new phase of exploration was to begin on the 80%-owned Luanshimba license in the country – said planning discussions have been held with its geological advisors to ensure the most cost-effective programme, and quotes for some of the geophysical work are awaited.

Oracle Power PLC (LON:ORCP) told investors it has received strong support for its development of the Thar coal project It was copied into a letter from the Minister of Energy for the government of Sindh to the chairman of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) authority which reflects the sentiments of recent talks in Karachi. The letter confirms “continued and strong support” for the project, along with approval of a letter of intent from the private power and infrastructure board.

Anglo Asian Mining PLC (LON:AAZ) has outlined its guidance for the 2020 financial year, projecting production in the range of 75,000 to 80,000 gold equivalent ounces. Based on current metal prices, the company said it expected revenue to significantly increase to over US$100mln. “Once again, 2020 is set to be another year of solid performance from Anglo Asian Mining,” said chief executive Reza Vaziri.

Corero Network Security PLC (LON:CNS) has said it will announce its results for the year ended 31 December 2019 on Monday, 6 April 2020.