• FTSE 100 closes up nearly 56 points
  • US surge provides tailwinds for UK stocks
  • US Manufacturing PMI comes in even lower than expected

5pm: FTSE 100 closes ahead

FTSE 100 index closed in positive territory as traders focused on the oil price recovery rather than dismal economic data.

Britain’s blue-chip benchmark finished the day up nearly 56 points at 5,826.

Midcap cousin FTSE 250 also rose, closing up over 207 points at 15,794.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US benchmark crude, gained nearly 31% to US$18.03 a barrel. Brent crude gushed up nearly 10% to US$22.40 a barrel.

In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged over 281 points higher, while the S&P 500 added over 30 points.

The latest manufacturing and services data from the eurozone and the UK were appalling – record low rates of activity,” noted David Madden, analyst at CMC Markets.

“The announcements initially caused stocks to trade lower, but the bullish run in oil overshadowed the figures.

“Also, some countries are relaxing their restrictions, so traders are taking the view that economic activity should tick-up in the months ahead. A number of big UK firms have announced plans to re-start operations.”

Housebuilders were among the top gainers on Footsie as Taylor Wimpey (LON:TW.) (which took the top spot) and Vistry Group PLC (LON:VTY) announced a return to work at construction sites, setting in motion the potential return to residential building for the whole sector.

Barratt Developments plc (LON:BDEV) rose 8.7% to 515.80p. Persimmon (LON:PSN) added 8.37% to stand at 2,189p.

4.00pm: Footsie cruises past 5,800

Having made it up to the 5,800 level on the back of US optimism, the Footsie kept on going.

The FTSE 100 was up 60 points (1.0%) at 5,831, shaking out of its lethargy after US indices opened sharply higher despite another distressing set of jobless figures plus a predictably cataclysmic set of US Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) numbers.

The IHS Markit Manufacturing PMI fell to 36.9 from 48.5 in March, which was lower than the consensus forecast of 38.

Despite a wealth of reasons pointing to the contrary, the markets managed an afternoon rally this Thursday.

“For the week ending April 18th, another 4.427 million Americans filed for unemployment, taking the 5-week together to more than 26 million. According to some calculations, that wipes out every job created since the Clinton administration.

“In terms of market perception, however, it was a further come-down from the near 6.9 million peak seen a few weeks ago, and a drop off from last Thursday’s 5.237 million reading,” commented Connor Campbell at Spreadex.

“Similarly, though both of the flash manufacturing and services PMIs out of the US saw a sharp decline month-on-month, they were nevertheless notable better than their European counterparts this morning, especially in services.

“These flimsy facts are potentially the reasons behind Thursday’s post-US open gains; that and Brent Crude’s continued rebound following Wednesday’s spike in Trump-Iran tensions,” he added.
 

2.50pm: Footsie perks up as US stocks open higher

US defied expectations to take a big stride forward in early trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 202 points (0.9%) at 23,673 and the S&P 500 was 27 points firmer (1.0%) at 2,827.

The advance was despite another set of scary weekly jobs claims in the US, with the figures for the last six weeks showing 25.4mln Americans have been pitched on to the dole.

“Another horrendous number, but at least the trajectory is clearly downwards,” observed Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“Some analysts feared an increase, on the grounds that claims would rebound after the holiday week, but any post-Good Friday rebound was swamped by the trend, as we expected. We anticipate a further decline in claims next week, but the rate of fall of Google searches for ‘file for unemployment’ has slowed, suggesting it will take several more weeks before claims drop below one million. Note that in the single worst week after the crash of 2008, claims rose 665l,” he added.

Russ Mould, the quote machine at wealth management firm AJ Bell has come up with the slightly astounding statistic that the S&P 500 index is only down 4% year-on-year.

“That leaves all of the other major geographic options available to equity buyers well behind and begs the question of why US stocks are proving so resilient and whether it can last. After all, if you had said to someone a year ago that a global pandemic would strike, large parts of the US economy would be in lockdown and that stocks would only fall 4% from record-highs over the next 12 months you would have probably been told you were off your rocker,” Mould suggested.

Mould theorised that US earnings are receiving “strong support from leading tech stocks” while optimism has also been engendered by analysts predicting the recovery in earnings will be V-shaped, rather than U-shaped or worse still, L-shaped.

At least the S&P’s gravity-defying performance has perked up the Footsie a bit in London; the index has been little changed all day but is now up a mighty 28 points (0.5%) at 5,800.

1.30pm: US stocks set for subdued start

US indices are expected to open little changed this afternoon, mirror trading patterns in the UK.

The Dow Jones is expected to shed around 16 points to open at 23,460 while the S&P 500 is set to edge up 3 points to 2,802.

The first-time jobless claims numbers for last week revealed another 4.4mln US citizens applied for unemployment benefit for the first time last week.

In London, the FTSE 100 continued to mark time, up 2 points (0.0%) at 5,772 despite what Craig Er lam of PANDA called some “horrible PMIs”.

“Once again it seems investors are willing to give the data a free pass and while I can see the argument for that, it does seem to gloss over the fact that these numbers are absolutely horrendous and there will be consequences, no matter how much stimulus we see and how many support schemes are put in place,” Er lam said.

“Perhaps it’s understandable that the data is getting something of a free pass at the moment. It may represent the current mood but arguably not so much the where business will be in six months, which is the point of the survey data. That, of course, will only last as long as unemployment doesn’t become more permanent and companies stay in business, if that changes, the data won’t get the free pass it currently is,” he added.

Nevertheless, there is definitely some demand for the safety of gold, with the price of the yellow metal up US$13.20 (0.8%) to US$1,751.80 an ounce.

Even the oil price is on the up, with the front-month contract for the US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, up US$2.43 (17.7%) to US$16.18 a barrel.

The equivalent contract for Brent crude is up US$1.60 at US$21.97 a barrel.

“Oil prices gained momentum following a significant correction as the prospect of renewed tensions in the Middle East and optimism over supply cuts helped offset fears of a collapse in global demand due to COVID-19,” explained boutique broker SP Angel.

 

12.15pm: CBI Industrial Trends confirms the misery

UK manufacturers reported the quickest falls in output volumes and total new orders since 2009 in the three months to April, according to the CBI.

The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) latest industrial trends survey also revealed that business optimism plunged at a record pace.

The survey of 330 manufacturing firms saw domestic orders drop at a similar pace to the last quarter, while the fall in export orders accelerated.

Investment spending plans for the next year sank to a survey-record low for buildings and plant & machinery, with record proportions of firms particularly concerned about demand uncertainty and internal finance availability.

Headcount in the three months to April fell at a similar pace to January, but manufacturers expect to reduce headcount at the fastest pace since 1980 over the next quarter.

“The April CBI industrial trends survey added to the evidence of the significant decline in manufacturing activity in April,” said Howard Archer, the chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.

“The orders balance fell back to -56% from -29% in March and -18% in February. This took it down to the lowest level since 2009, and substantially below its long-term average of -13%. This reflected a sharp weakening of both domestic and foreign demand,” Archer reported.

“The export balance fell to -49% in April from -28% in March. This also took it below the long-term average of -17%.

“Manufacturing volumes were reported to have fallen over the previous three months, at the fastest rate since 2009. A balance of -21% reported a rise in April; this compared to -8% in March.

“Output expectations for the next three months fell to a record low. A balance of -67% of manufacturers expect a rise in output over the next three months, compared to -20% in March and +8% in February,” he added.

As with the PMI figures released earlier this morning, traders responded phlegmatically, with the FTSE 100 off just 10 points (0.2%) at 5,761.

10.55am: Taylor Wimpey and Aston Martin eyeing return to work for employees

London’s index of heavyweight shares remains tethered on a short lease to last night’s close.

The FTSE 100 was down 5 points (0.1%) at 5,766.

“A dire set of European PMIs has not led to a severe decline in stock markets,” observed Chirs Beauchamp, the chief market analyst at IG.

“If you had told an investor on 1 January that, within a few months, global PMIs would dive to a fraction of their previous level, they would have thought you mad. What is equally confusing perhaps is the way markets seem to have taken today’s incredible readings in their stride, or at least in a relatively calm fashion but then it does not take a genius to infer from the film of deserted European capitals that activity has taken a hit to the solar plexus and will not immediately rebound. And with talk of a new ‘Marshall Plan’ for Europe doing the rounds stock markets are doing their best to ‘look past’ all the bad data,” he added.

Luxury car maker Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings PLC (LON:AML) raced 4.3% higher to 50.05p after it revealed it is planning to reopen its St Athan manufacturing facility on 5 May.

Meanwhile, housebuilder Taylor Wimpey PLC (LON:TW.), up 8.1% at 146p, continues to go well after it signalled it would start reopening building sites next month.

Investment platform operator AJ Bell PLC (LON:AJB) advanced 5.7% to 316p after its fiscal second-quarter update. Total customer numbers in the three months to the end of March increased to 262,179, up 22% year-on-year.

10.20am: The new normal

The Footsie is now more or less back to square one despite some eye-catching economic data this morning.

London’s index of leading shares was down 2 points (0.0%) at 5,769, with traders shrugging their shoulders at the IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index readings this morning, all of which hit all-time lows.

“We’ve seen the purchasing managers indices (PMIs) collapse across Europe so far this morning, and the story is no different in the UK. These figures are the first ones to fully take into account the lockdown period, and that saw the services index, which of course represents the bulk of UK economic output, slip down to 12.3. That’s easily an all-time low,” said James Smith, the economist covering developed markets at ING.

“There’s little doubt these are shocking figures, but the reality is they don’t tell us an awful lot that we didn’t already know. Being diffusion indices, PMIs aren’t able to tell us the extent to which output has deteriorated (although clearly the answer is ‘a lot’),” Smith said.

“As lockdowns are unwound gradually over the next couple of months, we might see the PMIs begin to rebound as more firms report ‘higher’ output. We saw something similar happen with the Chinese business surveys but the reality is that the underlying economic recovery is going to be much more gradual,” Smith predicted.

9.45am: UK PMI readings fall to all-time lows

The IHS Markit / CIPS Flash UK Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to an all-time low of 12.9 in April from 36.0 in March.

The flash UK Services Business Activity Index plummeted to 12.3 from 34.5 in March while the Manufacturing Output Index crashed to 16.6 from 43.9.

The flash UK Manufacturing PMI fell to 32.9 from March’s 47.8.

“The UK economy has been hit by the COVID-19 outbreak in April to a degree far surpassing anything seen in the PMI survey’s 22-year history. Business closures and social distancing measures have caused business activity to collapse at a rate vastly exceeding that seen even during the global financial crisis, confirming fears that GDP will slump to a degree previously thought unimaginable in the second quarter due to measures taken to contain the spread of the virus,” said Chris Williamson, the chief business economist at IHS Markit.

“Simple historical comparisons of the PMI with GDP indicate that the April survey reading is consistent with GDP falling at a quarterly rate of approximately 7%. The actual decline in GDP could be even greater, in part because the PMI excludes the vast majority of the self-employed and the retail sector, which have been especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 containment measures,” he warned.

Duncan Brock, the group director of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) said the UK private sector had been plunged “into the twilight zone”.

“The overall services fall in output was faster than manufacturing and the steepest since records began in 1996 as social distancing measures enforced for the population stopped everything in its tracks and an eerie silence descended over the UK’s streets.

“There’s nothing to applaud in this month’s results. Even the slight rise in optimism from last month’s record low feels like a blip to what the economy is facing in 2020. The figures for April could not be more worrying but as we may not have reached pandemic peak yet, there’s much more bad news to come,” he warned.

Traders in London did not seem overly surprised or concerned by the dire warnings. The FTSE 100 was down just 12 points (0.2%) at 5,759.

 

8.45am: Unilever tips the Footsie slightly into the red

The FTSE 100 index got off to a mixed start on Thursday with reactions to corporate news flow from the blue-chips cancelling each other out.

In early trading, the UK benchmark was down 11 points, or 0.2% at 5,760, largely as a result of Unilever PLC’s (LON:ULVR) 4.5% fall to 4,054p.

The fast-moving consumer goods maker disappointed the market with its first-quarter trading statement.

“There are some pockets where the picture is less bright and these issues may have taken more prominence today with investors looking for solid returns,” said Richard Hunter at Interactive Investor.

“Underlying sales growth in Emerging Markets, for example, declined by 1.8% in an area which should nonetheless provide Unilever with some strong longer-term opportunities. By product line, Foods and Refreshment dipped 1.7%, which is meaningful given that the division contributes 35% of turnover,” Hunter added.

Just Eat Takeaway.com (LON:JET) was 3.0% lower at 7,660p after it placed 4.6mln shares – roughly 3.2% of the company’s issued share capital – at the equivalent of 7,620p, raising roughly €400mln.

In contrast, aerospace engineer Meggitt PLC (LON:MGGT) topped the Footsie leader-board after its first-quarter and coronavirus (COVID-19) update.

Meggitt shares were 6.9% higher at 265.1p after it said the majority of its manufacturing facilities remain open during the lockdown period.

“Our defence portfolio represents a significant part of the group’s revenues and is performing strongly as work on key defence programmes continues as scheduled,” the company added.

Housebuilders have been volatile in the last few weeks but Taylor Wimpey PLC (LON:TW.) brought some cheer to the sector as it revealed it is to start a staged re-opening of its construction and sales sites from early next month using new social distancing protocols.

Taylor Wimpey shares rose 5.5% to 142.55p, dragging sector peers Barratt Developments PLC (LON:BDEV) and Persimmon PLC (LON:PSN) – up 3.6% and 3.1% respectively – higher in sympathy.

Proactive news headlines:

Kavango Resources PLC (LON:KAV) shares jumped higher on Thursday as the explorer highlighted progress at key projects in recent months. In an update, the group said its flagship Botswana exploration assets continue to advance and it noted that there has so far been minimal disruption as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as it had already focused work on desktop-based analysis and modelling. For the Kalahari Suture Zone (KSZ), for example, the company said it and its consultants are presently constructing a new model incorporating findings from a successful 2019 drill programme, with the aim of defining high-grade targets for the next campaign. Kavango noted that it is fully funded to the next phase of exploration at KSZ.

Open Orphan PLC (LON:ORPH) has revealed that its hVIVO subsidiary has commenced the testing of an anti-viral drug for treating coronavirus (COVID-19) on behalf of its client Nearmedic International. Nearmedic is a specialist pharmaceutical, biotechnological and medical business headquartered in Moscow; it is running tests using hVIVO’s virology expertise and laboratory capability on an anti-viral drug that could potentially be used to combat SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) infections. Open Orphan said this drug has both potential anti-viral and anti-inflammatory activity and as such could reduce both virus infectivity and disease severity respectively.

Braveheart Investment Group PLC (LON:BRH) has said its investee company Kirkstall is to collaborate with Animal Free Research UK to supply its Quasivivo proprietary testing equipment for use in coronavirus (COVID-19) research. Braveheart owns 64.7% of Kirkstall. In its update, Braveheart noted that another firm in its portfolio, Pharm 2 Farm (51.7%) is also now producing medical-grade hand sanitiser gel and plans to increase production to 2,000 litres per day by the end of May.

Ariana Resources PLC (LON:AAU) has reported what it says is a “significant” increase in the mineral resource estimate for its Kiziltepe mine in Turkey. The AIM-listed explorer said the updated estimate increased the resource at the site by 25% to around 321,000 ounces of gold and 5mln ounces of silver. The increase also represents a 72% uplift over the feasibility study resource on an undepleted gold only basis.

Next Fifteen Communications Group PLC (LON:NFC) has reported a double-digit rise in full-year profit and said it continues to win new work in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. For the year ended January 31, 2020, the digital communications firm posted a pre-tax profit of £40.2mln, up 12% on the prior year, while net revenues climbed 11% to £248.5mln. The group also said it had continued to “win new work”, having recently added DuPont, Google Cloud and O2 as new clients.

Amryt Pharma PLC (LON:AMYT) has said the read-out from its phase III study of its AP101 cream, a potential breakthrough treatment for a rare skin condition is likely late in the third quarter, or early in the fourth quarter of this year. The timeline was provided in a statement in which Amryt said its Global EASE trial would be concluded slightly earlier than anticipated against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak. Independent advice suggested the impact at this advanced stage of the recruitment process the would be “statistically negligible”. The company’s AP101 cream is being developed for epidermolysis bullosa, a chronic and distressing genetic skin disorder that causes the skin layers and internal body linings to separate.

Collagen Solutions PLC (LON:COS) has highlighted “positive revenue momentum” in several of its business categories despite challenges towards the end of its full-year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In a trading update for the year ended March 31, the AIM-listed biomaterials and regenerative medicines specialist reported 58% growth in revenues from its tissue business alongside 10% growth from development and 1% growth in contract manufacturing.

H&T GROUP PLC (LON:HAT) has said it was informed on April 21 that, between April 16 and 20, its chief executive, John Nichols exercised options for a total of 93,686 ordinary shares at a price of 245.5p each under the firm’s 2010 Option Scheme. It noted that Nichols sold 85,924 ordinary shares to satisfy tax only and 7,762 shares were retained as a result of the transaction. The company added that it has issued and allotted 127,601 new ordinary shares due to the exercise of the options.

Chesnara PLC (LON:CSN) has announced that its 2020 Annual General Meeting will be held at the company’ offices, West Strand Business Park, West Strand Road, Preston, PR1 8UY on Tuesday May 26 at 11.00am. It added that copies of the group’s 2019 Annual Report & Accounts and Notice of AGM may be viewed in the Investor Relations section of the company’s website.

Verona Pharma PLC (LON:VRP) (NASDAQ:VRNA), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on respiratory diseases,  announced that it will report its audited financial results for the three months ended March 31, 2020, on Thursday, April 30, and also host an investment community conference call at 2.00pm BST to discuss the results and provide a corporate update. To participate in the call, investors should dial one of the following numbers and reference conference ID 2667888: 866-940-4574 for callers in the United States; 0800 028 8438 for callers in the United Kingdom; 0800 181 5287 for callers in Germany. It sad a live webcast will be available on the Events and Presentations link on the Investors page of the company’s website – www.veronapharma.com – and an audio replay will be available there for 30 days.

6.45am: Mild start predicted

The FTSE 100 was poised for a mild start to Thursday’s trading, taking a breath from another round of volatility.

London’s blue-chip benchmark is called only 3 points lower – which would be accounted for by ex-dividend trading – with just over an hour to go until the open, with CFD firm IG Markets making a price of 5,768 to 5,771.

Yesterday afternoon and evening’s rally in crude oil pricing was reflected in rebounding equities. Commodities broadly reacted positively, with all acting as proxy indicators of global sentiments and particularly demand.

“The rapid turnaround in oil triggered a rally in stocks on both sides of the Atlantic,” CMC Markets analyst David Madden said in a note.

“When oil was in the doldrums, traders were scared it was a warning that global demand was about to nosedive, so the recovery in the market helped alleviate those fears.”

“The upbeat mood was witnessed in the metals market too. Silver, copper, platinum and palladium recouped some of the losses they endured on Tuesday. Industrial metals are a good barometer of risk appetite, so the move higher speaks to a tick higher in the wider sentiment.”

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrials Average closed out Wednesday up 456 points or 1.99% at 23,475. The S&P 500 gained 2.29% to finish the session at 2,799 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced further still to complete the day’s trading at 8,495.

Asian equity benchmarks also advanced with Japan’s Nikkei 225 index up 238 points or 1.25% at 19,376 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rising 0.4% to 23,988, while the Shanghai Composite edged just 0.13% into positive territory at 2,848.

Around the markets:

  • The pound: US$1.2358, up 0.19%
  • Gold price: US$1,715 per ounce, down 0.75%
  • Brent crude: US$22.88 per barrel, up 15.5%
  • WTI crude: US$15.71 per barrel, up 26%
  • Bitcoin: US$7,117.96. up 3.2%

Significant announcements expected on Thursday:

Trading announcements: Unilever PLC (LON:ULVR), Meggitt PLC (LON:MGGT), Taylor Wimpey PLC (LON:TW.), Relx PLC (LON:REL), Anglo American PLC (LON:AAL), Tullow Oil PLC (LON:TLW), Gear4music Holdings PLC (LON:G4M), AJ Bell PLC (LON:AJB),

Finals: Walker Greenbank PLC (LON:WGB)

FTSE 100 ex-dividends to knock 3.4 points off the index: Legal & General Group PLC (LON:LGEN), Spirax-Sarco Engineering PLC (LON:SPX), Antofagasta PLC (LON:ANTO)

Economic data: UK retail sales, UK flash PMIs, US jobless claims, US flash PMIs

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