• FTSE 100 closes up over 25 points
  • US stocks also higher
  • Hays decimated after it reveals “a very material deceleration in client and candidate activity”

5.45pm: FTSE 100 closes up

FTSE 100 index closed in positive territory on Thursday, while US stocks were also seeing green after President Trump appeared to spark a huge rally in the oil price.

Footsie closed up over 25 points at 5,480 with resource stocks, unsurprisingly, top of the pile.

Brent crude added over 225 to US$30.35 a barrel, while US benchmark crude rose over 23% to US$25.19 after Trump tweeted that he had spoken with the Saudi Crown Prince and he hoped that Saudi Arabia and Russia would cut around 10million barrels from supply, maybe more.

“Volatility has been the name of the game today, with the energy market ending up front and centre of today’s whipsaws. BP and Shell are leading the way higher again in the FTSE, with traders jumping in on the prospect of a 10-15 million barrel per day output cut as cited by Donald Trump,” said Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at online trader IG.

“With markets often sceptic of those claims of a breakthrough seen throughout the US-China trade talks, the key now is to see action taken from Russia or Saudi to confirm these intentions.”

The oil price surge drew attention away from astonishing US jobless claims numbers amid the coronavirus spread, which surged to 6.65 million in the week ending March 28 –  obliterating the previous record of 3.3 million set last week.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones added over 385 points at 21,328. The S&P 500 gained over 48 at 2,518.

2.50pm: Back in the high-life again

London’s index of leading shares has found forward gear again on what has been a topsy-turvy day.

The FTSE 100 was up 87 points (1.6%) at 5,542, having added 135 points in the last 50 minutes.

Land Securities Group PLC (LON:LAND) was among those contributing to the Footsie’s recovery, up 3.55 at 545p after it updated the market this morning on how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting the company.

The property company said it is “financially robust” with a loan-to-value rate of 28.1% as at the end of September 2019 and £1.2bn of cash and available facilities, and no debt.

Recruitment firm Hays PLC (LON:HAS) lost a tenth of its value at 97.95p revealed it has seen “a very material deceleration in client and candidate activity” in recent weeks.

2.30pm: “It didn’t have to be this way”

The market had been bracing itself for a very high number of US first-time jobless claims but the actual number was scarily high.

We’ll have to wait for President Trump’s explanation of why this is, in fact, good news for the US economy but in the meantime economists and fund managers have been pitching in with their comments.

“Another record week for unemployment in the US confirms the worst fears of the Fed and the market alike. The impact COVID-19 is having on the service-led economy is devastating, with estimates of GDP [gross domestic product] contraction in Q2 [the second quarter] as high as 34%. What’s more, the unemployment figures are inevitably going to rise, as local labour offices process the backlog following a surge of new claims. The private non-farm payrolls for March are expected to shrink for the first time in a decade,” said Robert Alster, the head of investment services at Close Brothers Asset Management.

“To soften the impact, fiscal and monetary levers will need to be used in tandem, and speed is of the essence. The US$2.2 trillion rescue package will help, but huge numbers of small and mid-size businesses will be looking to the treasury for further support. Similarly, consumers will benefit from the helicopter payments but are lacking the income support that we’ve seen in the UK. Further questions arise over Federal independence; constitutional authority for public-health interventions lie primarily with the states, but any social or economic response needs to be coordinated or they risk failing. Now more than ever the Fed needs to be ready to take drastic measures in response to the data,” Alster said.

Mickey Levy at Berenberg Capital Markets reported that continuing claims for unemployment insurance, which are reported with a two-week lag, increased to 3.0mln during the week ending March 21 from 1.8mln previously.

“During the Great Recession of 2008-2009, it took 1.5 years for continuing claims to increase by 3.9mln to 6.6mln; this time it has happened over the span of a few weeks,” he observed.

OANDA’s Edward Moya said the US economy is “in bad shape” and doubts are growing over whether the recent fiscal rescue package to help businesses will be enough to keep people on their payroll.

“It is unfortunate how bad these numbers are getting, and no one will be surprised if we see a few more terrible readings over the next few weeks. America needs the economy to reopen, but not at the cost of lives,” Moya declared.

Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the consensus forecast always looked too low.

“Job losses in the past two weeks, compared to the prior trend, total a scarcely-believable 9.5mln, but more are coming. Google searches [for “file for unemployment”] have dipped, but remain very high, and local media around the country continue to report large backlogs of claims because websites crashed and call centres could not cope with the volume of claims,” Shepherdson said.

“We’re hoping today’s reading will be the peak, but we can’t be sure and, in any event, total layoffs between the March and April payroll surveys look destined to reach perhaps 16-to-20mln, consistent with the unemployment rate leaping to 13-to-16%. In one month,” Shepherdson said, before adding it didn’t have to be this way.

“The US could have followed the lead of several major European countries and offered job retention programmes, paying most of people’s salaries, but preferred instead to increase and extend unemployment benefits. The result will be even greater dislocation for both people and businesses, some of which could have been avoided, and probably at a relatively small incremental cost,” Shepherdson said.

Another huge assistance package is inevitable, Shepherdson said.

In London, traders seem to be recovering from the initial stock and the FTSE 100 is down just 12 points (0.2%) at 5,444.

2.00pm: US jobless shocker

US indices are set for a subdued start after sky-rocketing first-time jobless claims in the US last week.

Spread betting quotes indicate the Dow Jones industrial average will open around 42 points lower at 20,900 and the S&P 500 3 points weaker at 2,468.

Weekly first-time jobless claims exceeded six million for the first time, with 6.6mln Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week, double the number from the week before.

Economists had pencilled in a figure of 3.5mln for the jobless figure.

In London, the FTSE 100 was down 47 points (1.0%) at 5,403, with the sharp reverse starting a few minutes before the US jobless figures were released.

12.30pm: The Footsie pulls out of its dive

Like a 1920s stunt flying ace, the Footsie pulled out of its dive before hitting the ground and is now at a safe altitude.

London’s index of leading shares was up 38 points (0.7%) at 5,494, despite the likes of Carnival PLC (LON:CCL) and Centrica PLC (LON:CNA) sustaining heavy losses.

Cruise ships operator Carnival PLC (LON:CCL) was down 11% at 692.4p after it increased the size of the fund-raising announced on Tuesday.

“Earlier this year shares in cruise ship operator Carnival were trading above US$51. The troubled business is now issuing new stock at a mere $8 a share as part of a broader US$6.25 billion rescue fundraising, suggesting that investors were only prepared to take equity if they got a bargain price to compensate for the high risks involved,” said Russ Mould, AJ Bell’s investment director.

“Investors brave enough to back the fundraising might think they are getting a bargain, yet Carnival is ploughing through cash at a high rate. The prospectus for the fundraising says it needs US$1 billion a month to cover operating costs, cash refunds of customer deposits, servicing debt and some other factors. That implies it needs life to return to normal by autumn otherwise it could be asking investors for even more money,” Mould said.

British Gas owner Centrica PLC (LON:CNA), which many investors hold purely for the dividend, has cut its dividend. The shares were down 8.4% at 34p.

Another utility company, National Grid PLC (LON:NG.) was down 4.2% at 873.4p after keeping its options open regarding the dividend payment.

“At this stage, we have not seen a material impact on our financial performance as a result of COVID-19, however, we are starting to see some delays and disruption to our capital programme,” the company said.

11.15am: Footsie drifts back towards base camp

The Footsie’s morning gains have now almost completely disappeared, despite the continued strength of the heavily-weighted oil stocks.

The FTSE 100 was up 11 points (0.2%) at 5,465, having reached as high as 5,506 earlier this morning.

“A surge in oil prices is the main event of the morning, as the beleaguered commodity stages a rally on hopes that some form of accord between Saudi Arabia and Russia might bring the ongoing supply battle to a close but this is only half the problem – abundant supply has come at a time of anaemic demand, and cutting back even modestly on output still leaves the world awash with oil that it doesn’t need, want or have space for,” said Chris Beauchamp, the chief market analyst at IG.

“Only a sizeable rebound in demand, and soon, could help provide a more durable solution, and that is not likely to develop in the near future, with lockdowns being extended in Europe and no sign that the rate of infection in the US has yet stabilised,” he said.

Sentiment continues to be affected by coronavirus developments, particularly in the US, where COVID-19-related deaths are “rocketing”, according to Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“The 13.4% increase in confirmed US cases yesterday was the smallest yet, though increases at this pace would still generate 1mln cases by April 12. Daily case growth needs to slow much further before any sort of control in the absolute numbers can be achieved,” Shepherdson said.

“The proportion of positive tests continues to rise [in the US]. Yesterday, 18.3% of test results were positive, up from 15.0% a week ago; wider testing is uncovering more cases. If testing numbers increase from the current c100K per day, the rate of growth of cases could rise; the downtrend … is not certain to continue,” Shepherdson said in Pantheon’s daily update on the spread of the virus.

“Italy’s cases increased by only 4.5% yesterday, a bit more than on Tuesday but the trend clearly is falling. The number of deaths is falling too; we expect a substantial further drop over the next week,” Shepherdson said.

“Case growth continues to slow in continental western Europe; yesterday’s 8.5% aggregate increase in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland was the smallest to date—just—but performance was uneven across countries.

“The rate of increase of deaths in this bloc is slowing steadily too; yesterday’s 12.7% increase was the smallest to date; it will fall further. The UK is at an earlier stage in both case growth and deaths,” he noted.

Lucky old us.

10.15am: Around 27% of survey respondents said they were reducing staff levels in the short-term

The Office for National Statistics has released the findings of its first Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) and it makes grim reading.

Of the 3,642 businesses that responded to the survey, 45% reported turnover that was “lower than expected” for the period 9 to 22 March 2020.

Around 27% said they were reducing staff levels in the short term, while 5% reported recruiting staff in the short term.

Almost half (46%) of businesses who responded said that they had encouraged their staff had to work from home in the period 9 March to 22 March 2020.

For those businesses that responded where importing and exporting were applicable, 57% of importers and 59% of exporters reported that trade had been affected by COVID-19.

Overall, online prices of items in the high-demand products basket have increased by 1.1% in the week to 29 March from the week before.

Over the same period, most items in the basket saw modest price changes, with 13 out of the 22 items showing price changes between negative 1.0% and positive 1.0%, the Office for National Statistics said.

The FTSE 100 was up 31 points (0.6%) at 5,485.

9.45am: House prices rose rapidly in March until …

Annual house price growth increased to 3% in March, up from 2.3% the previous month, according to the Nationwide building society.

The growth rate was the fastest pace since January 2018, when the annual increase was 3,2%, but the Nationwide cautioned that its survey uses a cut-off point before the end of the month so the effects of the coronavirus and the UK lock-down would not have been fully reflected in the survey.

“In the opening months of 2020, before the pandemic struck the UK, the housing market had been steadily gathering momentum,” said Robert Gardner, the Nationwide’s chief economist.

“Activity levels and price growth were edging up thanks to continued robust labour market conditions, low borrowing costs and a more stable political backdrop following the general election but housing market activity is now grinding to a halt as a result of the measures implemented to control the spread of the virus, and where the government has recommended not entering into housing transactions during this period,” he noted.

“Indeed, a lack of transactions will make gauging house price trends difficult in the coming months.

“The medium-term outlook for the housing market is also highly uncertain, where much will depend on the performance of the wider economy,” he suggested.

The share price performance of the housebuilders reflected the irrelevance of March’s house price figures, with the big players all up on the day but roughly in line with the market as a whole.

The FTSE 100 was up 36 points (0.7%) at 5,491, largely thanks to oil giants Royal Dutch Shell (LON:RDSB) and BP PLC (LON:BP.), which were up 7.4% and 5.5% respectively, as the price of Brent crude for June delivery shot up US$2.18 to US$26.92 a barrel.

“Oil prices are bouncing back strongly today, up around 10%, after Donald Trump suggested a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia to end the price war may be days away. I tend to take these things with a pinch of salt; how many times has the President said something that’s conveniently moved markets in his desired direction? Perhaps I’m mistaken but we’ve not heard many noises from Saudi Arabia or Russia that indicate a deal is days away,” said a sceptical Craig Erlam at OANDA.

8.45am: Small respite

It was an uncharacteristically quiet start to proceedings in London after a day in which a further 200 points was wiped from the FTSE 100 index.

The blue-chip shares benchmark opened 30 points to the good at 5,484.47 

The open was portrayed as “the calm between the storms”, by Proactive market reporter Jamie Ashcroft, an apt description given the upsurge of coronavirus deaths continues to rattle the global markets.

Wednesday provided a clear view of what’s happening among fund managers as the mist dissipated on one of the worst trading quarters on record.

“We got a really clear answer: a Bronx cheer or a ‘raspberry’,” said Marshall Gittler, an analyst at BD Swiss.

In other words, the money managers are in risk-off mode.

Sentiment will likely be shaped in the early afternoon by US weekly jobless claims, which used to be an irrelevance ahead of non-farm payrolls on Friday, but which now give a real-time reading of the state of the world’s largest economy.

Royal Dutch Shell (LON:RDSA) led the Footsie with a 4% gain early on amid murmurs of a potential oil war truce between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which pushed up the value of a barrel of crude.

A word of warning – supply remains in record territory with the US admitting to hoarding almost 14mln barrels of the black stuff.

Traders are now asking ‘how low can it go?’ when referring to cruise operator Carnival (LON:CCL), which sank a further 8.3% as its luxury vessels remained docked amid the clampdown on travel and it upsized its fund-raising

Rolls Royce (LON:RR.) was similarly affected as its fortunes are tied to airline industry, which has effectively been grounded over recent weeks. Its stock dropped 7%.

Proactive news headlines:

United Oil & Gas PLC (LON:UOG) shares rose on Thursday as the firm highlighted strong production growth in Egypt whilst detailing its response to “considerable challenges” across the industry amidst the coronavirus pandemic and weak crude prices. In a statement, the group said production in Egypt measured around 8,400 barrels oil equivalent per day (boepd) gross, or 1,850 boepd net, reflecting a doubling of output since this time last year. Significantly, the volumes are materially higher than they were when United agreed to acquire the Abu Sennan assets from Rockhopper Exploration PLC (LON:RKH).

Corero Network Security PLC (LON:CNS) has revealed it had a record quarter for order intake, securing US$2mln of additional customer wins in March. The cybersecurity group said the customer wins for its SmartWall DDoS (distributed denial of service) protection product included a new customer won through its relationship with Juniper Networks, and additional purchases from existing customers.

OptiBiotix Health PLC (LON:OPTI) has signed a contract manufacturing deal with a Danish company called Fipros. The agreement allows Fipros to manufacture the weight management product SlimBiome under licence. OptiBiotix said this latest commercial accord de-risked the business in the event of a hard Brexit, providing a source of product supply within the EU.

Genel Energy PLC (LON:GENL) has announced that full payment has been received from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for oil sales during October 2019. It said the Taq Taq partners have received a gross payment of $10.3mln, with Genel’s net share of the payment being $5.6mln. The company also said it has received an override payment of $8.6mln from the KRG, representing 4.5% of Tawke gross licence revenues for October 2019, as per the terms of its Receivable Settlement Agreement. Taken together with the payment announced on Tuesday for Tawke licence exports in the month, Genel has received payments relating to exports in October 2019 totalling $33.2mln.

KRM22 PLC (LON:KRM) has said it still expects to be adjusted underlying earnings (EBITDA) positive at the end of 2020 despite the “uncertainties and unknowns” relating to the coronavirus pandemic. In a trading update, the risk management software firm said it had “continued to see interest” for its products in the first quarter of the current year, and that several multi-year contracts were in “advanced stages of negotiation”.

AdEPT Technologies Group PLC (LON:ADT) employees have been designated as key workers by the government during the coronavirus pandemic and are dealing with a deluge of calls, the group said in an update on Thursday. The provider of managed services for information technology and unified communications said all of its employees have made a seamless transition to working remotely using Office 365, Microsoft Teams and Avaya IX technologies. Call volumes to AdEPT’s support teams have increased by 85% over the last few weeks but the company expects the level of calls to ease off as people get used to working at home.

Digitalbox PLC (LON:DBOX) has said the coronavirus pandemic may bring “opportunity” for its business which it said will be “well placed to exploit” over the year. In an outlook statement accompanying its full-year results, the owner of the Entertainment Daily and The Daily Mash websites said the pandemic had caused changes in people’s lifestyles which “may provide more opportunity for audience engagement”, although it warned that the advertising market “is [also] going to become much tougher”.

Benchmark Holdings PLC (LON:BMK) has said its trading performance is likely to be negatively affected by the coronavirus (COVD-19) outbreak. The aquaculture genetics, health and advanced nutrition company said trading in its Genetics division has not been materially affected by the current crisis but it is bracing itself for a significant impact on its Advanced Nutrition business as a result of reduced consumption leading to lower levels of production and disruption to logistics.

Gfinity PLC (LON:GFIN) has raised £2.25mln through a share placing that it said will support growth in its “three core strategic areas” including motorsports, building its own community of gamers, and helping others to build communities. The esports specialist said it had raised the funds through a placing of 225mln shares at a price of 1p each, a 33% discount to its closing share price on Wednesday. Gfinity said the placing had been oversubscribed following demand from both new and existing investors, and chief executive John Clarke said the fundraising marked “the final step” of a strategic review process.

Bushveld Minerals Ltd (LON:BMN) (OTCMKTS:BSHVF) is to take an 8.71% interest in a newly-created entity called Invinity, created by the proposed merger of RedT Energy with Avalon Battery Corporation which has now received shareholder approval Bushveld revealed in November that it would support the merger in the form of a US$5mln convertible loan. That loan will now convert into just over 3mln shares.

Ariana Resources PLC (LON:AAU) has completed a programme of rock-saw channel sampling at Kepez North, a likely satellite feeder project for the company’s Kililtepe mine in Turkey. Among the highlights from the results were 14.2metres at 10.77 grams per tonne gold and 93 grams silver, 10 metres at 11.45 grams gold and 73 grams silver, and four metres at 3.64 grams gold and 34 grams silver. A larger area of highly mineralised and broken material has been identified at the surface through scree sampling.

Galantas Gold Corporation (LON:GAL)(CVE:GAL) said it is set to complete a one-for-ten consolidation of its shares on April 9, subject to the approval of the Canadian Venture Exchange, with shareholders having already voted in favour. Meanwhile, the company said it is adhering to UK government guidelines in regards to the operation of its Omagh gold mine in Northern Ireland. A small number of essential staff are continuing to provide safety, security, maintenance and fulfilling statutory obligations on site. Essential staff are to operate under the health protocols advised by the authorities.

Iofina PLC (LON:IOF), specialists in the exploration and production of iodine and manufacturers of speciality chemical products, has announced the appointment of Mary Fallin, a former Governor of the State of Oklahoma in the United States, as a non-executive director of the company with immediate effect. Before serving as the first female Governor of the state for two terms, from 2010 to 2018, Fallin held many prominent state and federal positions, including serving as US Congresswoman for Oklahoma’s 5th district between 2007-2011 and serving as Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma between 1995-2006.  Commenting on the appointment, Tom Becker, president and CEO of Iofina said: “Mary brings invaluable experience in natural resources, crisis management and corporate governance, as well as a wealth of connections. Throughout her time in politics, she has been a great advocate of small and medium-sized enterprises like Iofina and so to have her join the team during this next phase of growth is really exciting for us.”

IronRidge Resources Limited (LON:IRR) has advised shareholders of the allotment and issue of 561,511 depositary interests of no par value each to Geodrill Limited, as partial satisfaction of invoiced costs to date associated with drilling at the company’s projects in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

88 Energy Ltd (LON:88E) has told investors that it won’t be having a physical AGM and instead it will take place online, via webcast, as the explorer seeks to comply with Australia’s coronavirus social distancing rules. Amid a ban on public gatherings, the company said in a statement: “88 Energy understands the importance of the AGM to its shareholders, however, the health and safety of shareholders, employees and the broader community is paramount.”

Silence Therapeutics PLC (LON:SLN), a leader in the discovery, development and delivery of novel RNA therapeutics for the treatment of serious diseases, said that Dr Rob Quinn, its chief financial officer, will conduct a virtual presentation at the 19th Annual Needham Healthcare Conference on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, at 2.20pm BST (9.20am ET). A live webcast of the virtual presentation can be accessed by visiting ‘Results, reports & presentations’ in the investors’ section of the company’s website. Silence also confirmed that it will announce its final results for the full year ended 31 December 2019 on April 14.

Ceres Power Holdings PLC (LON:CWR), a global leader in fuel cell and electrochemical technology, has announced its intention to change its financial year-end reporting date from 30 June to 31 December. It said this change has been considered by the board for some time and it will bring the company’s year-end in line with most companies and also avoids having a year-end during the summer period.  As a result, the company said, its next sets of results will be issued as follows: unaudited interim results for the 12 months to 30 June 2020 in late September 2020; audited final results for the 18-month period ended 31 December 2020 by the end of March 2021; unaudited interim results for the 6 months to 30 June 2021 in late September 202; and audited final results for the year ended 31 December 2021 by the end of March 2022

Keyword Studios PLC (LON:KWS) said that, following the announcement on March 25, that the group would postpone its results in line with the moratorium guidance issued by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Financial Reporting Council, its results for the year to December 31, 2019 will be announced on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

6.45 am: Low-key start predicted 

The FTSE 100 is set for perhaps its most low-key start for weeks, with sentiment subdued as the coronavirus (COVID-19) chaos continues though there’s not much specifically moving the needle so far on Thursday.

CFD and spreadbetting firm IG Markets sees the London index slightly higher, up about 9 points making the price 5,438 to 5,443.

This apparent lull in volatility comes after yet another tough day for the equity index, as the FTSE 100 yesterday marked a 217 point or 3.83% decline.

That volatility was felt particularly strongly in New York where the Dow Jones Industrials Average closed 973 points or 4.4% lower at 20,943. The S&P 500 similarly dropped 4.41% to finish the Wednesday at 2,470 and the Nasdaq Composite also gave up 4.41%, ending the session at 7,360.

“In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, President Trump played down the severity of the situation, but he has since changed his tune,” said David Madden, an analyst at CMC Markets.

“Yesterday, the US president declared the country is in for a ‘very, very painful two weeks’. The comments hit sentiment, leading to the major indices in Europe losing more than 3%, and the big equity benchmarks in the US in excess of 4%.”

The analyst added: “Last week we saw a lot of money being thrown at the pandemic as central banks and governments took drastic measures to cushion the blow to their respective economies, but now dealers must contend with the growing health crisis.

“COVID-19 has claimed more lives in the US than it has in China. Europe is grappling with the health emergency too as Italy and Spain have been hit hard by COVID-19 in terms of cases. Italy will now keep its lockdown in place until 13 April, while Germany has extended its lockdown until 19 April – this points to more financial pain on the horizon.”

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down around 245 points of 1.33% changing hands at 17,831, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was only slightly lower at 23,070. The Shanghai Composite actually marked time in positive territory, up 0.53% at 2,748.

Around the markets:

  • Pound: US$1.2402, up 0.25%
  • Gold: US$1,586 per ounce, up 0.21%
  • Brent crude: US$26.62 per barrel, up 1.01%
  • Bitcoin: US$6,603, up 4.39%

Significant events expected on Thursday:

Finals: Saga PLC (LON:SAGA), Epwin Group PLC (LON:EPWN), Hunters Property PLC (LON:HUNT), The Pebble Group PLC (LON:PEBB), Next Fifteen Communications Group PLC (LON:NFC)

Interims: Tracsis PLC (LON:TRCS)

FTSE 100 ex-dividends to knock 3.9 points off the index: Smith & Nephew PLC (LON:SN.), Mondi PLC (LON:MNDI), Melrose Industries PLC (LON:MRO), Phoenix Group Holdings PLC (LON:PHNX), Standard Life Aberdeen PLC (LON:SLA),

Economic data: UK construction PMI, US jobless claims

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