FTSE closes 3.5% higher

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UK stocks finished higher on Wednesday after US lawmakers reached agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package to buffer the world's biggest economy from the still-spreading coronavirus.

Final votes on the package were expected to take place in Washington later on Wednesday.

At 1630, the benchmark FTSE 100 index was up 3.5%, at 5,634.67

Convenience store operator in travel locations SSP jumped 22% to 288p, despite ruling out an interim dividend this year.

SSP also said it would issue new shares to bolster its capital position to weather the Covid-19 storm. The size and pricing of the capital raising would be determined through a book build process.

Home builder Persimmon jumped 13% to £19.1 despite scrapping one planned dividend payment and postponing another as it braces for a fall in home completions due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Retirement home builder McCarthy & Stone rallied 9.7% to 53p after it claimed cash reduction measures, including pausing new builds, would ensure its business could operate without revenue for about 2.5 years.

Aerospace and defense contractor Meggitt climbed 5.5% to 295p as it announced that outgoing chairman Nigel Rudd would stay on until further notice in the interest of continuity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Water supplier United Utilities rose 3.5% to 826p as it guided for higher underlying annual earnings, even as winter storms and an uncertain economic climate weighed on its performance.

With regards to Covid-19, United Utilities said it could make affordability schemes available to customers struggling to pay their bills, but noted its revenue was fixed due to regulations, with any shortfalls recoverable.

Support services group DCC rose 2.3% to £50 on news that it had acquired US-based nutritional products group Amerilab Technologies for about $85m.

Student accommodation developer Unite firmed 2.2% to 801p, even as it scrapped its final dividend and suspended its rental income guidance.

Unite said it would offer to forgo rent for students who choose to return home for the remainder of the 2019/20 academic year.

Technical products and services group Diploma rallied 2% to £14.6, despite guiding for a 'slightly' weaker-than-expected performance for the first half of the year.

Pest control company Rentokil slumped 11.3% to 328.6p after it suspended dividend payments and withdrew its previous guidance for 2020.

The suspension of dividend payments included withdrawing Rentokil Initial's final dividend proposed in February.

Waste management company Biffa dropped 12.5% to 199.6p after it pulled its dividend and warned that the coronavirus pandemic would have a 'material impact' on its performance.