StockMarketWire.com - Major UK markets continued their rally into a third day straight on Wednesday as investors clung to hopes that there could be a breakthrough on the horizon in the hunt for 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 headed the FTSE 100 leader board on Wednesday.

At the close, the FTSE 100 index was up almost 0.6% at 7,482.48, while the mid cap FTSE 250 also ended the day on the front foot, adding 0.4% to finish at 21,520.00.

The pound nudged ahead versus the euro although lost ground against the dollar after a strong opening on Wall Street. Brent crude rallied almost 4% to $55.96, but gold prices declined as investors took a more risk-on approach to assets.

SWING TO PROFIT

On to corporate news, Smurfit Kappa rallied close on 7% to £29 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 peers DS Smith and Mondi also moved firmly ahead as investors drew positive cross-sector 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 2.4% to 839.4p.

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 lost modest gains of early afternoon to finish the day down 11p at 811p.

But heavyweight fags and vapes group Imperial Brands was the biggest loser of the day, tumbling 6.7% to £18.216 after a profit warning.

The tobacco supplier slumped 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 nearly 3% into the red at 146.98 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 failed to maintain earlier 8% gains, losing momentum on Wednesday afternoon despite 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.

Domino's shares closed 4.3% to the good at 310p.

Residential property investor Grainger firmed 3% to 307.6p 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 3% to 585.2p 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 989.4p, 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 3.5% to 56.5p, 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, pulling the share price nearly 3% lower to 748p, although the stock remains within a whisker of their 786p all-time highs.

Payments company PCI-PAL jumped 8% to 46p after it forecast annual revenue growth of more than 70% after it won new contracts.

Shares in enterprise mobile computing group Touchstar soared 20% to 52.5p after it upgraded profit expectations thanks to a bounce in shipments to customers.


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