FTSE firms on fresh stimulus hopes

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London's FTSE 100 closed higher on Thursday, reversing earlier coronavirus-driven losses after Wall Street surged. US markets rose as record weekly jobless claims came in below investors' worst fears, making a case for more aggressive stimulus to aid businesses and families wrecked by the economic fallout from the pandemic.

European stocks edged higher too as investors awaited a vote by EU lawmakers on emergency funds to cushion the blow from the coronavirus outbreak.

By 16.35, the FTSE 100 traded 83.15 points higher at 5,771.35, up 1.46%.

Earlier in the week, UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced stricter measures to the country in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus, instructing everybody to stay at home aside from essential food and medication trips.

Companies have also been announcing steps they are taking to see their way through the current crisis.

Marine support services provider James Fisher & Sons scrapped its dividend and cut board member pay by a fifth to preserve cash and offset the potential impact of Covid-19 on the company. After falling at the open, the shares unchanged at £13.

The company decided that the final dividend for the year ended 31 December 2019 of 23.4p per share should be suspended until further notice. The move came as the company introduced a range of measures to preserve cash included the deferral of discretionary capital expenditure, a hiring freeze, and with effect from 1 April 2020, the salaries and fees of each board member would be reduced by 20%.

Senior, the international manufacturer of high technology components and systems, has taken actions to conserve cash amid the coronavirus crisis.

The actions include curtailing capital expenditure, tight management of our working capital and further cost cutting actions.

In the circumstances, given the increasing level of uncertainty, the Board is no longer recommending the payment of the 2019 final dividend of 5.23p per share at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting scheduled for 24 April 2020.

The actions saw its share price rise 0.5% to 75.5p.

Shopping centre owner Intu said it would engage in talks with its creditors to seek waivers on debt covenants after receiving just 29% of its second-quarter rent from its customers as the UK went into lockdown.

Its share price took a significant hit, down 4.6% to 3.9p.

British Land said it would suspend its dividend to preserve its balance sheet and delay its March quarter rent for retail customers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The announcement saw its share price fall 4.5% to 352p.

The company said it would temporarily suspend future dividend payments, including the 2020 third quarter dividend due for payment in May.

Electronic goods retailer Dixons Carphone warned on profit after shutting all its stores across the UK amid the government-imposed lockdown across the country to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The company has seen increased sales of electronic goods though and its shares were up 9.8% to 88.6p.

The Weir Group traded in line with expectations in January and February, in spite of three facilities in China being closed due to coronavirus.

In March, however, the company has said the 'significant reduction' in oil prices and escalation of the global Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the external environment. Weir fell 2.4p to 734.4p.

It has implemented cost reduction measures across the company, including a recruitment freeze and restrictions on all discretionary spending. It is also curtailing all non-essential capital expenditure so that spending in 2020 will now be significantly lower than previous guidance suggested.

Marks & Spencer fell 3.6% to 106.65p after US credit-rating agency Standard & Poors cut its view on the retailer's long-term sterling and foreign-currency debt from BBB-, the lowest level of investment grade, to BB+ which is regarded as sub-investment grade or 'junk'.

Vodafone, Telecom Italia Group and INWIT have completed the merger of Vodafone Italy's towers into INWIT.

The merger sees INWIT become Italy's largest tower operator and will focus on maximising tower utilisation whilst also supporting the deployment of TIM and Vodafone Italy's respective 5G networks.

The merger will be effective as of 31 March 2020, as will TIM and Vodafone's service contracts and active 5G sharing agreements. Following the merger, TIM and Vodafone will each retain a 37.5% stake in INWIT. Vodafone improved 2.2% to 119.6p.