StockMarketWire.com - After a positive start, UK stocks slowly drifted lower for most of the day over fears that London's financial centre could be subjected to 'lockdown' unnerving global investors, but they staged a late recovery after the Bank of England cut interest rates for the second time this month.

By 4.35pm the FTSE 100 index was back above the 5,000 level, up 1.8% at 5.173.5 points.

In a surprise move, the central bank cut the base rate from 0.25% (already an historic low) to the lowest level in its history of just 0.1%.

The Bank also committed to increase its purchases of government and corporate bonds by a further £200bn, taking its purchasing programme to £645bn.

In company news, the coronavirus crisis was once more front and centre although it wasn't all bad.

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

However the firm left its full-year revenue growth target of 10% to 15% unchanged as it said there was a chance that this 'forward buying' would unwind at some point. After losing 6% initially, shares were almost flat at £14.79 by the close. In contrast high-end fashion retailer Burberry warned that trading had 'deteriorated significantly' as comparable retail sales plunged between 40% and 50% over the past six weeks with around 40% of stores closed globally amid the virus outbreak.

The company said it expected like for like retail 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. Shares ticked up 3.4% to £11.40.

Shares in retailer Next were also up 3.4%, to £39.79, after pre-tax profits grew 0.8% 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%, while total brand sales including markdowns increased 3.5%.

Online sales were the largest contributor to the boost, generating £2.15bn in total sales, an increase of 11.9%.

The retailer also said that, in its own stress tests, the business could 'comfortably sustain the loss of more than £1bn (25%) of annual full price sales' without exceeding its current bond and bank facilities.

Engineering firm Halma warned on profit as the coronavirus outbreak in the fourth quarter undid the 'good' progress it had made during the last six months.

In an update for the period from 1 October 2019 to date, the company said it now expected adjusted pre-tax profit for the year to be in a range of approximately £265m to £270m, just short of current market forecasts of £275.5m. Shares added 5% to £18.70 on relief that the hit wasn't bigger.

International engineering company Meggitt reported trading in January and February 'in line with expectations', despite the 'rapidly changing external environment.'

The company said it would give details of its first quarter trading in a Q1 statement which is slated for late April but added it had already 'put in place a broad range of measures to significantly reduce cost and manage our liquidity over the coming months.' Investors were unnerved by the lack of detail, marking the shares down 6% to 224p.

Automotive retailer Autotrader said its annual results would be broadly in line with market expectations, but advised that short-term measures to protect advertisers would cost it £6-7m of operating profits. Investors applauded the firm's move sending the shares 16% higher to 429p.

Online brokerage IG said revenue increased by more than a 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, revenues were up 29% to £139.8m. However it cautioned that current high levels of volatility were unlikely to continue, leading investors to mark the shares down 6% to 578p.


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