- London equities began mixed and cautiously against a backdrop of Brexit-related uncertainty, and ahead of interest-rate decisions by the US Federal Reserve on Wednesday and the Bank of England on Thursday.

PM Theresa May's Brexit Bill looked set to achieve Royal Assent, meaning she was able to begin Brexit separation proceedings with the EU. However, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has stated she intended to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Markets were thus sensitive to Brexit-related developments, and were also expecting a Fed rate hike and for BoE to hold its steady. Interest-rate calls to the contrary would almost certainly spark volatility.

In early deals the FTSE 100 was up 11.76 points, or 0.16%, to 7378.84, and the FTSE 250 was down 21.27, or 0.11%, to 19,007.9. At 8.39am, WTI crude was flat at $48.4/bbl and Brent was up 0.02% to $51.36/bbl. Gold, silver and copper prices were all marginally lower.

Blue-chip risers were guided by Burberry (BRBY), up 0.96% to 1834.5p, with Prudential (PRU) following and up 0.84% to 1678.5p. Several US rate-sensitive utilities gained behind Severn Trent (SVT), ahead 0.81% to 2358p. A number of pharmas and oil majors made minor gains, too.

To the downside the the blue-chip pack was led by Marks & Spencer (MKS), lower 2.21% to 330.35p, with Next (NXT) tapering 1.31% to 3918p. Several banks eased after Lloyds (LLOY), down 0.9% to 67.92p, with airlines chasing IAG (IAG), down 0.93% to 559.75p.

Also lower were a number of commercial and residential property majors. Miners were mixed, with those touchy to the price of gold such as Randgold (RRS) and Fresnillo (FRES) ahead. Antofagasta (ANTO), up 0.19% to 786p, said its FY EBITDA rose to $1,626.1m, up 78.7% on the year, as as operating costs, before exceptionals, fell 8.1% and revenue rose 12.3%.

Merlin Entertainments (MERL), down 0.14% to 494.9p, has priced its offering of €200m euro-denominated 2.75% senior notes due 2022. The Notes would bear interest at an annual rate of 2.75% and they would be issued at 103.5% of their nominal value.


Independent Resources (IRG) dived 31.33% to 0.43p after outlining a two-for-three open offer of 2.24bn shares to raise gross proceeds of about £1.45m, which would be used to establish the initial platform from which IRG would grow significantly, in terms of hydrocarbon, human and financial resources.

Prairie Mining (PDZ) was up 14.53% to 33.5p on requesting its shares traded on the Australian Securities Exchange be halted from today, pending an announcement regarding a scoping study at the Debiensko Hard Coking Coal Project.

Gresham Technologies (GHT) slumped 11.88% to 141p despite it posting an improved FY pretax profit of £2.2m, from £1.6m, in what it labelled as an "extremely confident performance in 2016". It was confident about its future prospects.


Blancco Technology (BLTG) shed 9.9% to 277.5p after outlining changes to is board, among them chairman Matthew Peacock resigning and being replaced by Rob Woodward. The company also posted a much wider H1 pretax loss of £1.1m, from a loss of £0.3m.

Kalibrate Technologies (KLBT) fell 8.13% to 56.5p after posting H1 underlying EBITDA of $0.4m, from $1.4m previously, reflecting lower revenue of $14.1m, from $15.9m. It described the half as challenging.

Sula Iron & Gold (SULA), down 8.6% to 0.43p, conditionally raised about £0.5m gross via a placing by VSA Capital Ltd and Madini for a total of 128.6m new shares at a discounted price of 0.40p a share. Net proceeds would go to drilling, exploration and working capital.

SIG (SHI), up 7.74% to 115.5p, swung to a FY pretax loss of £106.3m, from a year-ago profit of £51.3m, in what it styled as a disappointing performance. It lowered its dividend to 3.66p a share, from 4.6p. Trading in the first two months of 2017 was in line with directors' views.

Burford Capital (BUR), up 4.91% to 768.5p, reported record income, profits, cash receipts and new investment commitments in the year to the end of December. Net profit after tax rose 75% to $115.1m and operating profit rose 61% to $124.4m, contributing to a 21.1% ROE.

French Connection Group (FCCN), up 4.66% to 36.5p, saw an improved trading performance in the year to the end of January despite revenues falling 6.7% to £153.2m. Underlying operating loss was reduced to £3.7m, from £4.7m.

The Gym Group (GYM), up 3.61% to 186.5p, turned in a FY statutory pretax profit of £6.9m, from a loss of £12.4m in 2015. Revenues rose 22.6% to £73.5m. It said 2016 was a "good year with strong financial and operational progress."

TP ICAP (TCAP), down 3.56% to 468.8p, saw its reported FY pretax profit almost halved, but on an underlying basis it was roughly a third ahead. Reported pretax earnings totalled £56.8m, from £105.7m. On an underlying basis, before exceptionals and acquisition, disposal and integration costs, pretax profit was £121.6m, from £93.7m.

Ocado (OCDO), up 1.2% to 261.3p, said it was pleased with the steady progress and growth achieved in the 13 weeks to Feb. 26, but issued a note of caution on any future currency movements. Gross retail sales came in at £352.4m, from £311.6m.

Other stocks in the news included Wood Group (WG.), Polymetal International (POLY), Brady (BRY) and Dolphin Capital Investors (DCI).

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