StockMarketWire.com - UK markets continued to struggle for momentum in midday trading with investors lacking clear direction on a typically quiet Friday session. News that the coronavirus continued to spread outside China, particularly in South Korea, where more than 200 cases had been confirmed, only acts as an additional drag on sentiment.

At 12.05pm, the benchmark FTSE 100 index was 0.2% in the red at 77,421.34, with the mid cap FTSE 250 also struggling against gravity.

Adding to the gloomy mood was publishing and education group Pearson as it continues to rack up costs in a drive online.

Pearson shares were the FTSE 100's biggest loser on Friday, slumping nearly 4.5% to 558.4p, as restructuring costs and asset sales related to its move towards digital services more than halved annual profit.

House builders continued to lending the market some support with Berkeley, Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon all among the FTSE 100's biggest risers, posting gains of between 1.5% and 2.5%.

Property developer and investor Hammerson lost earlier gains to nudge 0.5% lower at 224.6p, having offloaded UK retail assets for £455m to trim its debt pile. Investors have clearly chewed over the fact that the assets have been sold 22% below their combined book value.

Staying with property, residential and commercial investor Daejan Holdings, majority owned by the Freshwater family, saw its share price charge 55% higher to £80 after the founding family launched a take private offer and a huge premium to yesterday's £51.70 close.

The deal will allow minority investors to exit what has been something of a value trap for years at a handsome profit.

CLEAR AS MUD

Gulf-region hospitals group NMC Health dropped 0.9% to 849.2p after it received notifications from some of its major shareholders about their investments in the company.

NMC Health, however, said it was continuing to urgently seek more clarification about the size of their shareholdings.

Marine contractor James Fisher advanced 2% to £19.24 as it agreed a £35m four-year contract extension to supply its submarine escape and rescue system to the Royal Australian Navy.

Health, safety and environmental technology firm Halma added 1% to £22.40 following news that it had acquired Utah-based oxygen analysis and delivery product manufacturer Maxtec for $20m.

Building insulation provider Kingspan firmed 1% to €63.95 after it reported a rise in annual profit on higher sales.

Kingspan, however, also said that 2020 had gotten off to a slow start, citing uncertain economic outlooks in its end markets.

SMALL CAP WRAP

Industrial engineering company 600 Group collapsed 20% to 11.25p after warning that its annual performance would be worse than its previously downgraded expectations.

The company blamed a cocktail of factors, including a General Motors strike in the US, grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft and the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Manufacturer Bagir dived 12.5% to 0.53p as it announced it is to take action against the Shandong Ruyi Group over missing suit jacket manufacturing equipment.

Technology minnow Checkit rallied 8% to 39.5p after the company revealed that its executive chairman Keith Daley has bought 2.5m shares in the automated monitoring company.

Model trains firm Hornby rose close on 3% to 37p after announcing plans to place shares at 36p a go.

And staying with cash calls, Adept Technology is also seeking fresh funding to pursue acquisitions. The IT services firm plans to raise £4m as part of a wider strategy to expand the business, but the new stock will carry an 11% discount, explaining today's 10.5% share price decline to 322p.

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