StockMarketWire.com - After a positive start, UK stocks slowly drifted over the course of the morning with fears that London's financial centre could be subjected to 'lockdown' unnerving global investors.

By 12.45pm the FTSE 100 index was back below the 5,000 level, down 1.8% at 4,987 points, pulled lower by overseas earners such as Intercontinental Hotels and Ashtead which lost as much as 12%.

The coronavirus crisis was once more front and centre in company reports, although it wasn't all bad news.

Revenue at Ocado Retail grew 10.3% in the quarter to 1 March to £441.2m, but orders have grown twice as fast since the start of the second quarter causing 'unprecedented strain' on both its website and its delivery services.

As a result the firm had blocked access to its website for new customers and was concentrating on making sure existing orders were delivered as soon as possible. Ocado shares dipped 1.1% to £14.63.

In contrast high-end fashion retailer Burberry warned that trading had 'deteriorated significantly' as comparable retail store sales plunged between 40% and 50% over the last six weeks with around 40% of stores closed globally amid the virus outbreak.

The company said it expected like for like retail store sales in the final weeks of the year to be down between 70% to 80%. 'As a result, we now expect Q4 2020 comparable retail store sales to be around minus 30%,' it added.

The shares fell 1.9% to £10.80.

Pre-tax profit at retail giant Next was up 0.8% on last year, driven by better than expected full price sales in January.

According to its results for the year ending January 2020, Next brand full price sales were up 4%, and Brand total sales, including markdowns, increased 3.5%.

Online sales were the largest contributor to the boost, generating £2.15 billion in total sales. When compared to the year previous, this represents an 11.9% increase.

Its share price jumped 9.6% to £42.19 as it outlined its ability to withstand a big hit to sales.

Engineering firm Halma warned on profit as the Covid-19 outbreak in the fourth quarter undid the 'good' progress it had made during the last six months. Its share price gained 0.8% to £17.91 despite the news.

In an update for the period from 1 October 2019 to date, the company said it now expected adjusted pre-tax for the year to be in a range of approximately £265m to £270m, short of current market forecasts of £275.5m.

International engineering company, Meggitt, has confirmed trading in January and February was 'in line with expectations', despite the rapidly changing external environment. Its share price, however, took a tumble in the early hours, falling 6.8% to 211p.

The company said it will announce the details of its first quarter trading in a Q1 statement which is slated for April 23, 2020, but said it has already 'put in place a broad range of measures to significantly reduce cost and manage our liquidity over the coming months'.

Automotive retailer Autotrader said its annual results would be broadly in line with market expectations, but warned it would record operating loss in the range of £6m-to-£7m in the next fiscal year amid actions to mitigate the impact of the virus on its clients.

The announcement saw the shares fall 3.4% to 356.5p.

Online brokerage IG said it had revenue increase by more than fifth in the third quarter of the year, driven by a 'significant' increase in active clients and trading activity.

For the three months to 29 February 2020, Revenue was £139.8m, 29% higher than in the same period in the prior year. The shares were down 8.8% at 560p.




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