FTSE down a jot on utilities, banks amid ex-divs

London equities turned a jot lower in early deals with the blue-chip ladder led south by utilities, banks and commercial property stocks. Additional ballast was provided by a swathe of FTSE 350 ex-dividend issues.

Soon after the open, FTSE 100 was down 4.54 points, or 0.07%, to 6813.17, while FTSE 250 was down 2.51, or 0.01%, to 17,620.0. At 8.32am, WTI crude was down 0.17% to $47.88/bbl and Brent was down 0.27% to $48.82/bbl. Gold was down 0.58% to $1182.4/oz.

National Grid (NG.) lost 2.42% to 909.15p, with other US rates-sensitive sector pals lower, too. SSE (SSE) fell 1.2% to 1443.5p. Severn Trent (SVT), down 0.76% to 2216p, has lifted its H1 pretax profit to £185.0m, from £175.3m.

Among lenders, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) faltered 1.32% to 202.3p, while Standard Chartered (STAN) fell 1.13% to 634.55p and HSBC (HSBA) ebbed 1.02% to 636.05p. In commercial property, Land Securities (LAND) lost 0.72% to 962p and British Land fell 0.59% to 589.5p.

Also south bound were several miners, consumer goods, investment specialists, leisure, media, oil, and house builders, although some in these sectors made gains. Overall, fallers outnumbered risers by 75 to 25.

Rio Tinto (RIO), down 0.64% to 3079.75p, has committed to generating $5 billion of additional free cash flow over the next five years from a productivity drive unveiled today as part of its long-term strategy.

To the upside, Direct Line (DLG) chaired proceedings with a 3.37% gain to 360.15p, with Intertek (ITRK), up 1.48% to 3227p, and Shire (SHP), up 1.4% to 4660.5p, following.

BIGGER MOVERS

Imaginatik (IMTK), up 23.08% to 2p, said it expects to report a significantly reduced half-year loss after tax of £0.26m (2015: £0.41m). It has entered H2 with a healthy pipeline of new business opportunities.

Strat Aero (AERO), up 21.43% to 0.42p, said its two core divisions, Survey & Inspection Services and Commercial UAS Training & Education, are performing in line with its expectations. It said a short-term financing loan had been secured to provide adequate working capital to mid Q1 2017.

Weatherly International, up 17.65% to 1p, has provided an update on project development opportunities at Tschudi and Otjihase. "Further operational optimisation at Tschudi, plus project development at Otjihase and Matchless offer significant potential value for Weatherly," it said.

LONDON HIGHLIGHTS

Countrywide (CWD), down 13.46% to 167.8p, has warned its 2016 EBITDA will be at the lower end of market views. "This challenging environment underlines the importance of our focus on efficiency and productivity and the shift to our multi-channel model which we expect to yield significant benefit to our performance."

Charles Stanley Group (CAY), up 12.99% to 302.38p, said funds under management and administration (FuMA) rose 13% to £22.5bn at end-September. Reported pretax profit for the half year to end-September was up 80% at £3.6m.

Quixant (QXT), up 11.72% to 324p, anticipates that total revenue for the year will be not less than $86m and profit will be ahead of market expectations.

Belvoir Lettings (BLV), down 10% to 108p, believes the impact of Chancellor Philip Hammond's ban on upfront letting fees on the group's gross profit will be less than 8%. It noted the period of consultation, and added it could not fully predict the likely financial impact on the results for the year ended December 2017 and beyond.

Scisys (SSY), up 9.77% to 118p, has conditionally acquired Annova Systems GmbH, a provider of media software solutions, based in Munich. Initial acquisition consideration was &euros;11.35m cash, plus a three-year earn-out of up to €16.48m in cash or shares.

CVS Group (CVSG), up 7.39% to 955.25p, said its like-for-like sales grew 6.3% in the four months to end-October, compared with the corresponding period last year.

Helical (HLCL), up 7.04% to 281.25p, said its EPRA net asset value per share rose to 471p at end-September, up 3% up from end-March's restated 456p. Interim dividend was proposed at 2.4p a share, from 2.3p.

HSS Hire Group (HSS), down 5.92% to 89.38p, said its revenues rose to £256.0m in the 40 weeks to Oct. 1, up 10.9% on the 39-week period last year. It warned Q4 trading will be at the lower end of management's expectations.

Pets at Home (PETS), down 3.15% to 226.15p, has improved its H1 pretax profit to £45.99m, from a year-earlier profit of £40.91m. Dividend per share was 2.5p, from 2p. Revenue for the period was £441.3m, from £404.5m. Its profit outlook for FY 2017 was in line with market views.

Other stocks in the news included Actual Experience (ACT), Chesnara (CSN), UDG Healthcare (UDG), Wolf Minerals (WLFE), Lindsell Train Investment Trust (LTI), ZincOx Resources (ZOX), Marston's (MARS), Invesco Income Growth Trust (IVI), Starcom (STAR) and Netcall (NET).