StockMarketWire.com - Major UK markets continued their rally in midday trading on Wednesday as investors cling to hopes that there could be a breakthrough in finding an effective treatment for the deadly coronavirus.

A World Health Organisation report shows ongoing moderation in the growth rate of global confirmed cases, albeit the pace of that moderation has slowed in recent days. Encouragingly, the ex-China growth rate continues on a steep downward trajectory.

The UK's benchmark FTSE 100 index is also being bolstered by a series of positive updates and results from heavyweight companies, including packaging firm Smurfit Kappa, which heads the FTSE 100 leader board at midday.

At 12pm, the FTSE 100 index is up close on 0.6% at 7,483.20, while the mid cap FTSE 250 is also firmly on the front foot, adding 0.5% at 21,542.45.

SWING TO PROFIT

Smurfit Kappa had rallied around 6.5% to £28.94 after posting a swing in to profit for the full year 2019, having recovered from a big write-down on its Venezuelan assets in the previous year.

Packaging peer DS Smith also moved firmly ahead, adding 5% or so to 369.1p as investors drew positive conclusions from Smurfit trends.

House builders were also in demand after Barratt Developments posted a 3.4% rise in first half profit, underpinned by higher sales and stronger margins. That saw shares in the company rally 4.4% to 857.2p.

Shares in rival house builder Redrow failed to capitalise on any sector read-across after it reported a far less-impressive 15% slump in its own first half profit, largely due to completing fewer new homes.

Redrow also announced that executive chairman John Tutte would step down to the role of non-executive chairman in July before retiring ahead of the company's 2021 annual general meeting.

Redrow shares managed to nudge 2p higher to 824p.

But the news was not uniformly positive, with heavyweight fags and vapes group Imperial Brands sinking on a profit warning.

Shares in the tobacco supplier slumped nearly 8% to £18.04 after warning of annual adjusted earnings 'slightly lower' than last year following a US ban on vaping products.

Mobile network Vodafone failed to hold on to earlier modest gains to slide more than 1% lower to 149.52 despite reiterating full year earnings guidance after it grew its revenue by 6.8% in the third quarter.

ELSEWHERE ON THE MARKET

Domino's Pizza topped the FTSE All-Share leader board, jumping nearly 8% to 320.5p after reporting a 3.7% rise in fourth quarter sales. That was enough to more than offset a warning of a £20m loss across its Nordic assets.

Residential property investor Grainger firmed 2.8% to 306p on the back of a rise in rental growth, driven by improving housing market sentiment following the UK general election in December.

Defence contractor Babcock International shed 0.8% to 598p on news that chief executive Archie Bethel had decided to retire after 16 years at the helm.

Bethel will remain as CEO until a successor had been put in place.

On a big day for executive departures, United Utilities reversed 0.6% to 989p, on announcing the pending retirement of chief financial officer Russ Houlden in July.

At the smaller-company end of the market, UK motor retailer Lookers advanced 4.4% to 57p, even as new car sales fell 6.6% in the fourth quarter, though used cars sales remained steady.

Filtration engineer Porvair continues to be dogged by valuation concerns following Monday's robust full year results, dragging more than 5% on the share price at 730p.

Payments company PCI-PAL added 2.3% to 43.5p after it forecast annual revenue growth of more than 70% after it won new contracts.

Shares in enterprise mobile computing group Touchstar lost some of their earlier energy but are still nearly 8% up at 47.5p, after it upgraded its profit expectations thanks to a bounce in shipments to customers.

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