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Volt Resources transforms to graphite producer on completing ZG Group acquisition

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Volt Resources Ltd has officially completed its transition to become a graphite producer, following the acquisition of a 70% controlling stake in the Ukrainian Zavalievsky Group (ZG) of Companies.

As previously reported by Proactive, Volt has signalled a shift away from graphite exploration and development to become a fully-fledged graphite producer, through a deal with the ZG Group.

That shift is now complete, with news on Tuesday morning that Volt had entered into a new US$4 million convertible security with SBC Global Investment Fund, drawn down in full to fund the acquisition.

Low-risk acquisition complete

Volt managing director Trevor Matthews said the ZG acquisition would rapidly transform Volt’s future in graphite.

“The acquisition of a controlling interest in the ZG Group positions us years ahead of our peer graphite companies without the usual development risks associated with a greenfield project,” he said.

“Volt now has the potential to become a key market participant in the supply of graphite and battery anode materials into the growing European market with excellent access to other markets in the USA and the Middle East.”

ASX-listed graphite producer

Volt is now one of the few ASX-listed graphite producers without the usual time and risk related to complete greenfield project financing, construction, commissioning and ramp-up.

The Zavalievsky graphite business has the following advantages for Volt:

  • Located in Eastern Europe in close proximity to key markets with significant developments in LIB facilities planned to service the European based car makers and renewable energy sector;
  • Plans to produce battery anode material using existing graphite production to become a fully integrated supplier to LIB cell makers based in Europe;
  • Makes graphite products across the range and has the potential to significantly increase its high-value large flake production;
  • Produces a high value ‘green’ purified 99.5% TGC product;
  • Long-life multi-decade producing mine that has further exploration upside;
  • Existing customer base and graphite product supply chains which Volt expects to be able to leverage in developing its existing Bunyu graphite project in Tanzania;
  • Excellent transport infrastructure covering road, rail, river and sea freight combined with reliable grid power, ample potable groundwater supply and good communications;
  • An experienced workforce that can assist with training, commissioning and ramp-up for the Bunyu graphite project development;
  • Potential to generate material cashflow which could make Volt internally funded for corporate costs and working capital into the future;
  • Co-products of quarry stone for the domestic market and garnet for the European market that could generate material cash flow for relatively low capital; and
  • A 79% interest in 636 hectares of freehold land, with the mine, processing plant and other buildings and facilities located on that land

The Zavalievsky mine and processing facilities are adjacent to the town of Zavally, about 280 kilometres south of the Ukraine capital of Kyiv and 230 kilometres north of the main port of Odessa.

ZG Group has current plans to install a processing plant and equipment in order to commence producing spheronised purified graphite (SPG) for the European LIB anode market within the next 12 months.

Zavalievsky mine’s strategic location for the future supply of SPG to the European market has already attracted interest from LIB cell manufacturers and major carmakers.

Terms of the deal

ZG has agreed to defer the second and final instalment of US$3.8 million until July 2022.

Volt has already paid the vendors of the ZG Group the first instalment, comprising an advance of US$150,000 with the balance of US$3.65 million paid on completion of the ZG Group acquisition.

Volt had previously announced the ZG acquisition would be funded through a US$8.5 million loan agreement with JES Green Investments Ltd but that agreement has been terminated as JES defaulted.

– Daniel Paproth

Mason Graphite acquires graphene processing technology and forms joint venture with Thomas Swan

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Mason Graphite Inc (TSX-V:LLG, OTCQX:MGPHF) said it has agreed to purchase strategic assets related to a patented graphene processing technology from the UK specialty chemical company Thomas Swan & Co Limited through a joint venture company to be named Black Swan Graphene Inc. 

Mason Graphite and Thomas Swan will own 66.67% and 33.33%, respectively, of Black Swan Graphene, which is expected to go public in the coming months. 

Shares of Mason Graphite surged more than 24% to $0.67 in late afternoon trading Monday following the announcement.  

“Graphene is no longer theoretical, but undergoing a transformative progress in applications, production, and commercialisation,” Mason Graphite chairman Fahad Al-Tamimi said in a statement.   

“Yet very few companies are able to produce high performance graphene at a cost sufficiently low to penetrate industrial markets; I believe Black Swan Graphene will be one of them,” Al-Tamimi added. 

“Not only this new venture is expected to create meaningful graphite demand and is therefore a natural extension of the Lac Guéret graphite project, but it truly transforms the company’s potential as it elevates Mason to a preeminent position within the fastest growing segment of the carbon industry.”

Thomas Swan CEO Harry Swan also commented, stating: “After a thorough review of the carbon industry and a long discussion process with several market participants, we are very excited to start this new venture with Mason Graphite, which is advancing a unique graphite project, developing a broad range of carbon-related products, and working with several high-profile technical partners.”  

“This partnership creates a more efficient supply chain, which will solidify and accelerate the deployment of our graphene processing technology within a burgeoning industry.”

Mason Graphite noted the graphene processing technology acquired allows for the production of high-performance graphene at a cost sufficiently low to encourage rapid commercial penetration in industrial applications requiring large volumes of graphene.

It added that graphene can be used to strengthen polymers with applications in the lightweighting of the transportation industry.

The company also said the graphene produced by Thomas Swan has undergone thorough customer testing and qualification processes by globally-recognized companies, such as for use in mobile handsets, and is expected to be widely used in “off-the-shelf” products in the near future.

Black Swan Graphene aims to establish a large-scale commercial production facility in Québec, to leverage the province’s competitive and green hydroelectricity, as well as the proximity of Mason Graphite’s planned production sites.

Mason Graphite will pay £3 million to Thomas Swan for its technology and also invest C$2.5 million in Black Swan Graphene for working capital purposes.

As well, Mason Graphite announced that Lucky Minerals (TSX-V:LKY, OTC:LKMNF) Inc CEO Francois Perron will join the company’s board of directors effective immediately.

—Updates for share price— 

Contact Sean at sean@proactiveinvestors.com

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  • FTSE 100 off around two points
  • Bitcoin prices surge
  • Blockchain companies back in demand

5.05pm: FTSE closes a tad lower

FTSE 100 closed slightly lower on Monday and US shares were muted as stocks appeared to come off the recent boil.

The UK’s premier share index closed down around two points, or 0.03%, at 7,025, off the session high of 7,038 but well above the low of 6,980.

FTSE 250 fared better though, adding almost 50 points, or 0.22%, at 22,933.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones added around 21 points at 35,083. The S&P 500 gained around six points at 4,418. The tech heavy Nasdaq advanced around seven points at 14,844.

“Unsurprisingly, and perhaps fairly, the looming FOMC meeting this week gets the blame for why the bounce in stocks of the past week has slowed,” note Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at online trading firm IG.

“But it is a jam-packed week for earnings too, and by the end of this week, and of July, we will be much better informed (hopefully) about the outlook of the Fed but also about whether the strong start to earnings season was an aberration or whether it will be confirmed by the avalanche of earnings in coming sessions.”

4.05pm: Non event for Footsie

Today has been a bit of a non-event for the FTSE 100.

The index did briefly crawl into positive territory shortly after lunch but is now modestly in debit at 7,109, down 9 points (0.1%).

All of the volatility was taking place among the small caps, especially those with any sort of connection to blockchain technology, as cryptocurrency markets sparked back into life on speculation that Amazon.com is contemplating accepting Bitcoin on its platform.

Four of the five top movers – GSTechnologies Ltd, Quantum Blockchain, Online Blockchain PLC and Argo Blockchain PLC – were blockchain players. The gains on the four ranged from 22% to 47%.

At the bottom of the greasy pole was RTC Group PLC, which tumbled 21% to 39.5p after it reminded investors that the withdrawal of all NATO forces from Afghanistan will herald the end of its main business in that country.

The engineering and technical recruitment group managed to limit the decline in profit before tax in the first half of 2021 to £162,000 from £231,000 the year before.

 

Praise be, the FTSE 100 has crawled into positive territory.

London’s index of heavyweight shares was up just 4 points (0.0%) at 7,031, thanks largely for enthusiasm for mining shares.

The move into credit means AstraZeneca PLC is now out of step with the market trend, 2,2% lower at 8,291p.

The drugs giant said its Ultomiris drug has been recommended for approval in the European Union by the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) for children and adolescents with paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria.

The new is unlikely to have been responsible for the share price slide, however.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank ha revealed that the 550 or so market professionals around the world that it surveyed earlier this week now have a new thing that is keeping them awake at night.

Previously, survey respondents had named inflation fears as the main worry in May and June and while 42% of those surveyed still named it as a concern, it has been overtaken by the heebie-jeebies over more COVID-19 variants, with 63% of respondents citing it as the major worry.

“While inflation concerns are still elevated, the expected inflation/deflation balance was at the lowest since January even though we’ve subsequently seen inflation numbers not seen for a generation,” Deutsche Bank said.

“Elsewhere readers are on balance supportive of England lifting all covid restrictions but with a wide range of views; however people were much more pessimistic about life being back to normal by year-end than they were a month ago,” Deutsche added.

2.45pm: US stocks start the week in reverse

Wall Street’s main indices have started the week on the back foot ahead of a heavy week for US earnings.

Shortly after the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.09% at 35,029 while the S&P 500 dropped 0.07% to 4,408 and the Nasdaq fell 0.27% to 14,796.

While equities were negative, Bitcoin was enjoying a strong bounce, up 12% in the last 24 hours at US$38,317 amid reports that Amazon may be considering accepting payments in the cryptocurrency.

The Nasdaq’s biggest players will continue to be in focus for the remainder of the day as investors await earnings from Tesla due after the closing bell.

Back in London, the FTSE 100 was still struggling to make headway in late afternoon and was down 5 points at 7,022 at around 2.40pm.

2.05pm: Bitcoin buzz returns

Equity markets are lacklustre today but cryptocurrency markets are back in favour.

While the FTSE 100 is down 3 points (0.0%) at 7,025, Bitcoin has rallied 12% to US$38,706 after online retail giant and tax specialist Amazon.com appeared to signal an interest in accepting Bitcoin as a payment currency.

“It appears like the pace of buying has been rising ever since last week’s “B-Word” conference with Elon Musk [Tesla CEO] and Jack Dorsey {Twitter CEO]. In addition, speculation has been growing that Amazon could be accepting Bitcoin payments later this year, which would be massive news and a big catalyst behind further gains if the story turns out to be correct,” said Fawad Razaqzada at ThinkMarkets.

“Are we also seeing some pre-emptive buying ahead of Tesla’s earnings today? It could be that some speculators are anticipating pro-crypto remarks from Tesla CEO Elon Musk or his team when the electric car maker produces its quarterly results after the stock markets close tonight. So do watch out for that possibility,” Razaqzada suggested.

Susannah Streeter, a senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the buying frenzy appeared to have been triggered by a simple job ad from Amazon.

“Although Amazon has scores of openings for blockchain specialists, it was the listing for a digital currency and blockchain product lead that has led to heightened speculation that cryptocurrency payments could be integrated on its platforms.

“Given the might of Amazon Web Services, it isn’t surprising that the tech giant wants to be at the cutting edge of new payments technology and establishing a new digital currency is likely to be on the agenda but the expectation that payment may also be accepted from the current crypto kids on the block has also led to a spike in their value. Over the past 24 hours Bitcoin has risen by 11%, Ethereum by 8% and Dogecoin by 11%,” she noted.

“Crypto fans are also hanging on every word of Elon Musk and his hint that Tesla could start accepting Bitcoin again is also behind the crypto bounce. The suspension of Bitcoin as a means of payment for Tesla cars sent the crypto world reeling in May, but in a debate with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Mr Musk indicated that could change given mining has reached a tipping point, with much more renewable energy used instead of fossil fuels,” she added.

12.35pm: US indices to open lower as results barrage begins

At the start of what is set to be a hectic week for company announcements, US indices are expected to open in the red.

Spread betting quotes indicate the Dow Jones will surrender 127 points to open at 34,924 and the S&P 500 will yield 13 points to clock in at 4,399. The teach-heavy Nasdaq 100, the index most likely to be affected by this week’s multitude of results from tech giants, is expected to retreat 25 points to 15,086.

“As we look ahead to this week’s key events, uppermost in investors’ minds will be the Federal Reserve rate meeting, which starts tomorrow, and where speculation about a discussion on the tapering of asset purchases, and a possible timeline is likely to be top of mind,” said CMC’s Michael Hewson.

“It is also set to be another busy week of earnings reports as the big tech giants report their latest quarterly numbers.

“These are especially important given that these tech companies have predominantly driven the moves higher in US markets to recent record highs, and investors won’t want to see any signs of a paring back of guidance expectations over the rest of the year.

“Starting with Tesla later tonight, we can also look forward to the numbers from Apple, Amazon. Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft, along with a host of other high-profile names throughout the week,” he added.

In London, the FTSE 100 remains mired in the red but has not changed much in the last hour or so, down 20 points (0.3%) at 7,007/

The FTSE 250 has eked out an 8 point (0.0%) gain at 22,891, with sentiment helped by a hardening of sterling against the US dollar. The pound is trading at around US$1.3784, compared to US$1.3750 around midnight last night.

Beazley PLC, up 4.3% at 393.8p, is leading the advance after the insurer’s interims got the thumbs-up from the market.

“After a tough 2020 that included significant Covid-19 related claims, Beazley’s 1H21 was far more encouraging. The company reported that its gross written premiums were up 22% YoY with premium rates on its renewal business increasing by 20%, accelerating from 1Q21 of 16%, which should be ahead of its expectations,” said Karl Morris, the director of financials at Edison Group.

Also going well is low-cost airline easyJet PLC, which is up 4.3% at 848.4p, piggybacking on well-received results from Ryanair.

10.55am: Miners defy the trend

London’s index of leading shares is just about keeping its head above 7,000, thanks largely to miners, which are defying the weaker trend.

The FTSE 100 was down 22 points (0.3%) at 7,006.

“Sentiment has come under pressure due to a widening tech crackdown in China. The Chinese government has decided to reform its education tech sector and the new regulations that were released over the weekend (but were materialising on Friday) ban companies that teach school curriculums from making profits, raising capital or going public,” said Jim Reid at Deutsche Bank.

On the plus side, there are tentative signs that the coronavirus situation in the UK is improving.

“In the UK, the seven-day average of recorded new infections has declined from a peak of 71.6 per 100.000 residents on 21 July to 57.5 on 25 July,” reported Holger Schmieding of Berenberg.

“The UK remains the test case. The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK has risen to 5,001 on 22 July, up from an average of 900 in late May but far below the peak of 38.4k in mid-January. If recorded infections in the UK decline in coming weeks, the hospitalisation rate should peak within a few weeks well below a level that could cause serious stress for the UK’s medical system,” he added.

Source: Berenberg BankCovid-19 hospitalisation rates

“If so, this would bode well for other countries with fast vaccination progress but less elevated infection rates and more cautious governments.

“Of course, we need to watch the risks carefully. Across much of the Eurozone and the US, the Delta wave is still mounting. Also, most of the infections recorded now in England probably still reflect the situation just before the biggest nation within the UK lifted all its remaining mandatory restrictions on 19 July. It may take some two weeks to gauge whether and to what extent ‘freedom day’ may have added to infection risks,” he added.

Cruise ships operator Carnival PLC evidently feels confident enough in the improving situation to hold a celebration at the Port of Seattle on Friday to celebrate a return to service in the US of the Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.

The market seems a bit more sceptical about the return of floating Petri dishes with the shares in London down 1.8% at 1,418.2p.

9.55am: Banks lead the retreat

Banks are leading the Footsie lower in a week in which many of the big names of the sector are due to report.

The FTSE 100 index was down 32 points (0.5%), with Asia-focused banks HSBC (LSE:HSBA) Holdings PLC and Standard Chartered PLC (LSE:STAN) – both down 1.9% – the hardest hit index constituents.

Natwest Group PLC and Barclays PLC (LSE:BARC), both down 1.6%, hardly fare any better while Lloyds Banking Group (LSE:LLOY) PLC is 1.2% weaker.

“Barclays, Lloyds Banking and NatWest all report after their US counterparts provided clues on what to expect having reported earlier this month. In particular, there could be further large releases of impairment provisions as economic recovery has proved stronger than expected, lessening the levels of bad debts,” said Richard Hunter, the head of markets at interactive investor.

“For those with an investment banking operation, there could also be a further boost to earnings given the heightened levels of M&A activity and IPOs. In any event, given that the banks are each strongly capitalised going into the numbers, strong earnings could prompt further dividend increases, particularly with the regulatory shackles having been lifted,” he added.

Ryanair Holdings PLC (LSE:RYA) was 3.2% firmer at 16.23p after its first-quarter results.

“Ryanair’s results painted a rosy picture of the future for European air travel as vaccination passports open the door to a summer travel season. The group’s seen bookings rise since the new rules waving quarantine for double-jabbed travellers were announced and expects to fly 9m people in July and a further 10m in August. This is still below pre-Covid levels, but a huge improvement on the past year,” reported Laura Hoy, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“However, despite an influx of travellers, Ryanair’s losses widened over the past three months as the costs to restart flights—fuel, staff, airport handling costs—rose significantly. Ticket prices, on the other hand, were depressed. The airline is using ultra-low fares to offset the knock to passenger confidence that ever-shifting quarantine rules have had. Operating with costs outweighing revenue isn’t a long-term strategy, but management doesn’t expect it will last forever—guidance still suggests the group may be able to break even at the full year.

“Unfortunately, Ryanair is still at the mercy of the virus and, although a recovery is materialising, the group noted that travel within Europe will be depressed for the foreseeable future. We’re encouraged by the group’s progress, but it may have to toe the precarious line between low fares and high costs for some time,” she added.

 

The FTSE 100 took its cue from Asia’s main markets, which were rattled by a further clampdown on Chinese tech stocks.

Not even three quick-fire three Olympic gold medals for Great Britain could lift the mood in the Square Mile.

In a sense, Monday represents the calm before the storm ahead of what Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, calls an “avalanche of earnings” both here and in the US.

Stateside we also have the two-day Federal Reserve Meeting, which is probably more about tapering than interest rate rises, along with a significant economic reading in the form of gross domestic product data.

On the Footsie, miners led the way with copper, iron ore, zinc and nickel all well bid.

Antofagasta (LON:ANTO), up 1.9%, led the way, followed by Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and Anglo American (LON:AAL).

6.50 am: FTSE 100 set to open in the red

The FTSE 100 looks likely to take its cue from Asia’s main markets, where sentiment has been hit by China’s continued clampdown on technology companies.

The Shanghai Composite was off 2.4% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 3.2% after online education firms were hit with draconian new restrictions.

At the same time, Tencent endured a further blow after it was forced by the authorities to give up certain music streaming rights.

It all made for a difficult start to the week, which should have been a lot easier after Wall Street’s close last week in record territory.

Only Japan really seemed to buck the regional trend with the Nikkei 225 trading 1% higher.

Here in the UK, there is cause for a little optimism with Covid infection rates starting to show some signs of subsiding, prompting hopes the third wave has hit its peak.

The Daily Mail dubbed as “dramatic” the fall in positive tests from 49,000 a week ago to just over 29,000.

And it pointed out it is the first time cases have fallen below 30,000 since July 6, with daily deaths standing at 28 on Sunday, up just three on the same time a week earlier.

The last five-day run of falling numbers was in February, shortly after the UK passed the peak of the winter wave.

Looking ahead, it is a big week for corporate news with updates from three major airlines – British Airways owner IAG (LON:IAG), Ryanair (LON:RYA) and Wizz Air (LON:WIZZ).

We also have scheduled news from telco BT (LON:BT.A), drugs groups AstraZeneca (LSE:AZN) (LON:AZN) and GlaxoSmithKline (LON:GSK) as well as a cocktail of oilers, miners and banks.

In the US, the tech stocks begin their reporting round starting with Tesla after hours on Monday. We also have numbers from Apple, Amazon. Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft upcoming this week.

Finally, the Federal Reserve begins its monthly musings on interest rates on Tuesday; however, the central bank’s take on the potential tapering of asset purchases is likely to be uppermost on traders’ minds.

Around the markets

  • Pound US$1.3756 (flat)
  • Bitcoin US$38,348.22 (+11.3%)
  • Gold US$1,810.80 (+0.3%)
  • Brent crude US$73.59 (-0.7%)

6.50am: Early Markets – Asia / Australia

Stocks in the Asia-Pacific region slipped on Monday as Chinese tech and education stocks plunged on regulatory pressure and a summit between China and the United States got off to a tense start.

The Shanghai Composite in China slumped 3.04% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dipped 3.34%.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 lifted 0.91% while South Korea’s declined 0.75%.

Shares in Australia gained, with the S&P/ASX 200 trading 0.08% higher.

Tesco bank to close all current accounts due to lack of demand

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Tesco PLC (LSE:TSCO)’s banking arm will close all existing current accounts from later this year, just seven years after the service was launched. 

The holders of the 213,000 personal current accounts will be sent a letter in the coming fortnight offering options including moving their balance to a different bank, to a Tesco Bank savings account or registering for Tesco’s new product, Clubcard Pay.

All personal current accounts will be shut on 30 November, with Tesco Bank having stopped accepting new accounts in December 2019.

Tesco had been looking to sell the banking business for some time.

Gerry Mallon, chief executive of Tesco Bank, said: “The way customers shop and manage their money is constantly evolving and we are committed to developing products and services which align with the needs of Tesco shoppers. 

“With so few of our current account customers using it as their primary account we want to support them to find a suitable alternative dependent on their circumstances.” 

How shockwaves from China crackdown spread to London and New York – 2-minute explainer

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Tencent and China’s online education providers are the latest to feel the strong from Beijing’s rumbling crackdown on the country’s big tech companies, though the financial effects are being felt much more widely than just the local stock market.

In London, New York and Europe there were falls for many of the funds that are fully focused on China or the emerging markets funds that have a heavy weighting to the country.

Most notable among them was FTSE 100-listed investment trust Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust PLC (LSE:SMT), where four of its top 10 largest positions being Chinese companies, and where Tencent Holdings Limited (HKG:0700) was until recently its largest holding.

Many of London’s other most popular investment trusts are focused on the People’s Republic and were among the big fallers, including Fidelity China Special Situations PLC (LSE:FCSS), Baillie Gifford China Growth Trust PLC and JPMorgan China Growth & Income PLC.

The biggest emerging markets exchange-traded funds were also all in the red, including the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (where Alibaba and Tencent are its second- and third-largest holdings) and the Xtrackers MSCI Emerging Markets UCITS ETF (where top 10 holdings include Alibaba, Meituan, China Construction Bank, JD.com, Tencent and Ping An all from China).

Beijing regulators have swung their guns from target to target over the past year, starting with a probe into online shopping platform Alibaba Group (NYSE:BABA) that resulted in it being a US$2.8bn for abusing its market position.

Other probes and fines have been meted out to a range of high-profile companies, including ride-hailing app DiDi Global, messaging apps Weibo and QQ and video-sharing app Kuaishou.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s planned US$37bn initial public offering for his Ant Group finance business was brought tumbling down to earth by Beijing regulators, with reports varying over whether the reason was Ma’s challenge to the country’s state-controlled financial system, the general unease about Chinese companies listing in the US, or the group’s complex ownership structure linked to political families who could represent a potential challenge to President Xi and his inner circle.

This week’s moves, which include barring digital media colossus Tencent from acquiring exclusive music copyright agreements, and restricting the online education industry’s profits and levels of foreign investment, undoubtedly have a political angle in a country where the government’s influence is never far away.

But despite many of the biggest companies coming under fire, fund managers seem confident of the ongoing attractions of the country.

Scottish Mortgage’s Tom Slater just weeks ago said that “the pace of innovation at scale in China now exceeds anything we can find in the rest of the world” and he and his team were looking for the next generation of companies as they think “there are still some really big opportunities in that market”.

Proactive news headlines: CentralNic Group, MGC Pharmaceuticals, Plant Health Care, DeepVerge…

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CentralNic Group PLC, the internet platform company, expects full-year revenue to be well ahead of market resources after a strong second quarter.

MGC Pharmaceuticals Limited said it achieved record sales in its June quarter, boosted by higher sales of its phytocannabinoid products.

Red Rock Resources PLC (AIM:RRR, FRA:R2TA), a multi-commodity exploration and development company, has appointed Alex Borrelli to the board as an independent non-executive director with immediate effect.

Plant Health Care PLC (AIM:PHC) (LON:PHC) described first-half sales of its lead product as “most encouraging” as it provided a comprehensive update in which it said trading was in line with expectations.

XLMedia PLC (AIM:XLM, FRA:7X3) said it continues to make good progress in the current financial year and it expects a rise in interim revenues and earnings.

Galantas Gold Corp (AIM:GAL, TSX-V:GAL, OTC:GALKF, FRA:G2V2) said it will imminently start an initial Phase 1 surface and underground exploration program, comprising of 4,000 metres of diamond drilling, at the Omagh gold mine in Northern Ireland.

Trident Royalties PLC (AIM:TRR, FRA:5KV) has appointed Peter Bacchus as non-executive director, as James Kelly steps down to pursue other business interests. Bacchus is currently chief executive of Bacchus Capital, an independent investment banking boutique with particular expertise in the natural resources sector.  

Sativa Wellness Group Inc (AQSE:SWEL, CSE:SWEL, OTC:SCNNF, FRA:484) has announced a new business strategy following what it said was a “strong start” to its current year.

Metal Tiger PLC (AIM:MTR) has received firm commitments from existing and new strategic institutional and sophisticated investors for a conditional capital raising of A$5mln at a placing price of A$0.37 per CHESS Depositary Interest. The placing is expected to facilitate additional liquidity to the company’s Australian Securities Exchange quotation and assist Metal Tiger to establish an increased presence in the Australian market. 

Canadian Overseas Petroleum Ltd (LSE:COPL, CSE:XOP, FRA:V9LA, OTC:VELXF) told investors that production is up around 50% currently, as it filed first-quarter results.

Galantas Gold Corp said it will imminently start an initial Phase 1 surface and underground exploration programme, comprising of 4,000 metres of diamond drilling, at the Omagh gold mine in Northern Ireland.

Two key board members of IronRidge Resources Ltd (AIM:IRR, FRA:BSG) have committed to remaining with the company for a further two years, each with an option for two years on top of that. Chief executive Vincent Mascolo and chief operating officer Len Kolff have both played key roles in bringing the company to the stage where it is set to transition from explorer to producer.

DeepVerge PLC (AIM:DVRG, FRA:4RG) has completed the upgrade of its laboratories in York, which will enable it to increase the number of Skin Trust Club home test kits it can process.

Block Energy PLC (AIM:BLOE, FRA:BE9) is to hold a general meeting on August 11 as a shareholder calls for a forensic investigation into the affairs of the company.

United Oil & Gas PLC (AIM:UOG, FRA:1UO) chief executive Brian Larkin highlighted an exceptional operational and financial success in the first half of 2021.

Mode Global Holdings PLC (LSE:MODE, FRA:MOC) (LSE:MODE, FRA:MOC) said its payment and rewards solution has launched on iOS devices in a Public BETA today.

4D pharma PLC (AIM:DDDD, NASDAQ:LBPS, FRA:4DY) (AIM:DDDD, NASDAQ:LBPS, FRA:4DY) has announced the death of John Beck, the group’s chief financial officer.

Apple: Analysts eyeball US$3 trillion as they await Q2 earnings

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It was less than two years ago that Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), the world’s most valuable company, earned the distinction of becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company.

Back in autumn 2019 analysts wondered whether the tech giant could remain airborne at those levels.

Today a far less sceptical Wall Street reckons Apple’s valuation could soon push through $3 trillion.

Daniel Ives, at broker Wedbush, said: “Apple remains the top tech name to own.”

His analysis suggests the Cupertino, California-based titan is worth $185, giving it a ‘market cap’ of $3.1 trillion.

“The tech bull cycle will continue in our opinion its upward move in in the second half of 2021 and 2022 given the scarcity of growth names/winners in this market looking ahead on the heels of the fourth industrial revolution playing out among enterprises/consumers,” Ives said in a note to clients.

“Our favorite large cap tech name to play the 5G transformational cycle is Apple, with the one-two punch of its massive services business and iPhone product cycle translating into a $3 trillion market cap for Cupertino during 2022 in our opinion.”

Currently, the company is worth $2.5 trillion based on a share price of just shy of $150.

The Wedbush analyst is not alone in predicting Apple will push beyond the $3 trillion mark.

Five star rated Brian White, of boutique equity research firm Monness Crespi and Hardt is one of those. In research quoted by CNBC, he said he reckons the shares could ultimately wind up changing hands for $180 each.

The Street is predicting Apple will weigh in with third-quarter earnings of $1 a share on revenues of $73 billion on Tuesday.

However, the tech sector’s number crunchers are already looking beyond the latest numbers and towards September’s launch of the latest iPhone. Let’s hope 13 is lucky number for CEO Tim Cook and his team.

If the release of a new handset could act as a major valuation catalyst, then antitrust legislation would undoubtedly have the reverse effect.

The House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee passed six bills aimed at curtailing the power of Big Tech.

Relevant to Apple specifically are the Ending Platform Monopolies Act and American Choice and Innovation Online Act.

“We believe the power of the App Store and Apple’s preinstalled proprietary app strategy are key antitrust issues for the company.

“Despite our expectation of greater scrutiny around Apple, we continue to believe the company remains that ‘shining city upon a hill’ in the Big Tech world,” Monness analyst White said to CNBC.

Google parent Alphabet expected to show bumper revenues, anti-trust scrutiny remains

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Google owner Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been outperforming big-tech peers Facebook and Amazon and the stage is still set for the group to impress with its second quarter results on Tuesday.

Alphabet stock is up more than 50% in 2021 to date (around 51% for the Class A shares and 57% for the Class C), helped in part by the internet giant’s strong first quarter showing in which it delivered 34% revenue growth year-on-year and earnings per share (EPS) rocketed 116% to US$26.29 (beating consensus forecasts for US$15.82.

Investors are eyeing more of the same.

Wall Street expectations are set at US$56bn for Q2 revenue whilst consensus analyst forecast see EPS at US$19.21. These forecasts are pitched against a fairly low bar, with last year’s comparatives marked at US$38.3bn for revenue and US$10.16 EPS.

It will be the latest signposts on what experts believe to be a bumper year for the search and ads group, with some estimating that the +50% revenue growth can be maintained for the whole year.

Whilst the financials and forecasts see the market bullish, caution remains around regulatory risk – specifically, the scrutiny in various territories over competition and anti-trust.

This point was perhaps sharpened last week with the appointment of Google agitator Jonathan Kanter as the Justice Department’s antitrust chief.

Kanter previously led cases against Google and if his nomination is confirmed he is expected to push ahead with ongoing lawsuits against Big Tech, including a suit launched against Google back in October and an investigation into Apple’s App Store practices.

Aon and Willis Towers merger collapses amid US regulatory pressures

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A US$30bn merger between Aon PLC and Willis Towers Watson PLC which would have created the world’s largest insurance broker has collapsed after hitting a major roadblock with US regulators.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in June in a bid to block the combination, originally announced in March last year, on the grounds that it would reduce competition in the market and result in higher prices, particularly in the areas of reinsurance brokering, pension and retirement planning, and private retiree multi-carrier healthcare exchanges.

While both Aon and Willis previously agreed to several divestments in order to appease regulators, the merger plans have now be dropped completely to end the litigation with the DOJ.

“Despite regulatory momentum around the world, including the recent approval of our combination by the European Commission, we reached an impasse with the US Department of Justice”, Aon chief executive Greg Case said in a statement.

“The DOJ position overlooks that our complementary businesses operate across broad, competitive areas of the economy. We are confident that the combination would have accelerated our shared ability to innovate on behalf of clients, but the inability to secure an expedited resolution of the litigation brought us to this point”, he added.

The scrapping of the merger will cost Aon US$1bn in termination fees now owed to Willis, which coincidentally said on Monday that it will increase its existing share repurchase program by the same amount.

The share prices of the two firms were sent in opposite directions in mid-morning trading on Wall Street on Monday, with Aon jumping 7.3% to US$249.48 while Willis Towers slumped 7.1% to US$210.44.

Trident Royalties appoints investment banker to the board

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Trident Royalties PLC (AIM:TRR, FRA:5KV) was 4.1% higher at 35.5p after announcing changes to the composition of its board.

Peter Bacchus, chairman and chief executive of investment banking boutique Bacchus Capital, has joined the board as a non-executive director, replacing James Kelly who is stepping down to pursue other business interests.

Paul Smith, the non-executive chairman of Trident, thanked Kelly for his contribution to the company since its inception and welcomed Bacchus to the board, saying the company would “benefit greatly from his extensive advisory experience and deep knowledge of the natural resources sector as we scale the business”.

3.10pm: Mode launches Apple version of its Android payments app

Investors bought into Mode Global Holdings PLC (LSE:MODE, FRA:MOC) after it launched a payments and rewards product on the Apple operating system (iOS).

The company already has a product on the Android system and the iOS version, which is a BETA release, will have similar functionality.

Mode customers will be able to try out the new app features from today via Mode’s recently-launched merchandise store, which has its payments solution integrated at checkout.

2.35pm: Galantas glistens as it signals start of exploration programme at Omagh

Galantas Gold Corp (AIM:GAL, TSX-V:GAL, OTC:GALKF, FRA:G2V2) climbed 5.6% to 37.5p after it announced the imminent start of an exploration programme at the Omagh gold mine in Northern Ireland.

Drilling will focus on the Kearney and Joshua veins. The drilling results will support the mine plan as the company moves into a new phase of underground mining and accelerated development.

Underground drilling on the Kearney vein will test deeper extensions of mineralized dilation zones targeting higher widths of mineralisation within the vein. Drilling will also target continuity and grade of additional mineralised zones running parallel to the main orebody.

1.40pm: Journeo boosted by Aberdeenshire County Council contract

The share price of Journeo PLC (AIM:JNEO) got a bit “scorchio” on Monday after the company secured a tender valued at £800,000.

The contract is for real-time passenger information systems and services for Aberdeenshire County Council.

Shares in the information systems provider were up 5.0% at 105p after the company said trading in the first half of 2020 had been better than the corresponding period of 2020.

12.45pm: ECO Animal’s sales growth stalls

ECO Animal Health Group PLC slipped 5.7% after its chief executive officer, marc Loomes, signalled his intention to retire at the end of 2022.

The announcement coincided with the release of results for the year to the end of March that showed sales had risen 46% from the year before to £105.6mln while profit before tax surged to £20.3mln from £6.1mln.

Performance in the current financial year was described as “solid” with group revenue marginally behind the corresponding prior-year period.

11.50am: Market gives warm welcome to Prospex Energy’s new CEO

Prospex Energy PLC (AIM:PXEN) (AIM:PXEN) has hired Mark Routh as its new chief executive, who takes the reins from managing director Edward Dawson.

Routh, formerly chief executive and chairman of Independent Oil & Gas, is expected to add operational and technical expertise to the board.

“We look forward to working closely with Mark as the company grows its portfolio of European gas and power projects,” said chairman Bill Smith.

Shares in Prospex were up 4.9% at 6.4p in morning trading.

10.55am: RTC Group hit by NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan

RTC Group PLC (AIM:RTC) slumped 15% to 42.5p as it highlighted the significant loss of business it will suffer in Afghanistan now NATA forces have withdrawn.

The engineering and technical recruitment group said it has put in its tender for a renewal of its contract with Network Rail.

Leaving aside the Afghanistan and Network Rail factors, the company said the outcome for the remainder of 2021 depends on whether the present optimism over the vaccine roll-out and the consequential economic forecast plays out as the Government hopes.

10.00am: CentralNic higher after upbeat trading statement

CentralNic Group PLC, the internet platform company, expects full-year revenue to be well ahead of market resources after a strong second quarter.

The company said in a first-half trading update that the April-June quarter saw revenues rise by 63% from a year earlier to US$90mln, with like-for-like growth of around 25% – a record level for the group.

Revenue for the first six months of 2021 should be around US$174mln and adjusted underlying earnings (EBITDA) should be around US$20mln, with the group seeing growth across all of its revenue lines.

Shares in CentralNic were 10% firmer at 98.01p.

9.05am: TP Group’s interim CEO gets the job

TP Group PLC (AIM:TPG), up 20% at 3.95p, was the top riser on Monday morning after it confirmed interim chief executive officer David Lindsay has got the gig permanently.

The company is trading in line with market expectations and management revealed there remain significant market opportunities and strong customer relationships that give the board confidence for the future.

The company has been fielding offers for its maritime engineering business but none of them was high enough to persuade the company to sell.

Interim results from Science Group PLC (AIM:SAG) sent the shares 8.3% higher to 455p.

The science-led services and product development organisation said it achieved record results in the first half of 2021.

Group revenue rose to £40.7mln from £36.9mln in the same period of 2020, with like-for-like sales up 10% or 16% on a constant currency basis. Adjusted profit before tax rose to £6.9mln from £4.6mln the year before.

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