StockMarketWire.com - The FTSE 100 continued to struggle for meaningful momentum in late morning trade with the UK still firmly in lockdown and government failing to ramp up its coronavirus testing programme to plan.

The UK yesterday saw its largest number of deaths since the virus took hold in the country. In Italy, however, the virus impact appeared to stabilise with just 12 new cases of the virus reported on Wednesday.

At 11:40am, the benchmark FTSE 100 index was barely making double-digit headway, adding just 11 points, or 0.2%, to 5,465.73. The FTSE 250 fell 0.85% to 14,424.23.

MORE DIVIDENDS FACE THE AXE

In company news, energy firm Centrica said it would cancel its dividend as part of a move to cut costs and said it would delay the sale of its stake in Spirit Energy until energy and financial markets were stable. On the back of the announcement, the shares price fell 7% to 34.46p.

Distribution and services company Bunzl pulled its dividend despite reporting a rise in revenue in the first quarter of year. The firm warned of disruptions as the food service and retail sectors were expected to be significantly affected by lockdown measures.

The company said it would no longer propose a final dividend for the year ended 31 December. The shares dipped 1.4% to £15.43.

National Grid said it had not yet seen a 'material impact' on its financial performance from the virus outbreak but was starting to see some delays and disruption to its capital programme. Shares fell 4% to 871.2p in early trading.

Comparison website Moneysupermarket.com has committed to pay its final dividend for 2019, bucking a growing trend among companies who are cancelling or suspending payouts to preserve cash. Moneysupermarket declared an 8.61p per share payout alongside its full year results on 20 February but the dividend policy will remain under review for this year.

The news will come as only a modest lift to shareholders after Moneysupermarket pulled 2020 guidance as the coronavirus put a severe dent in business in recent weeks.

The share price reversed 1% to 289.4p.

RECRUITER WARNS

Shares in recruitment firm Hays plunged 10% to 198.5p after it said it had seen 'a very material deceleration in client and candidate activity' in March, scrapped its interim dividend and tapped investors for £200m.

Similarly, Safestore said its key trading performance indicators showed to relatively limited impact from the pandemic, with 4.92 million square feet of occupied space across the portfolio, a drop of just 0.8% since its first quarter ended on 31 January. Shares rose 4.3% to 631p.

Pharma giant AstraZeneca said it had completed the previously agreed sale of its global rights to Movantik, a treatment for opioid-induced constipation, to RedHill Biopharma for at least $52.5m. Shares dipped 1.8% to £69.72.

Popular high street store Pets at Home said it expected underlying pre-tax profit for the full year to be slightly above the top end of the range of current market expectations.

For most of the fourth quarter, the group traded in line with market expectations although it saw a dip in demand in-store and online in the closing weeks of the year. Shares felling 3.5% to 231.6p.

Low-cost airline Wizz Air revealed that the virus had forced it to cut capacity by 34% in March. It operated rescue flights from Germany to Ukraine, from Malta and Croatia to North Macedonia as well as from North America to Hungary in order to repatriate passengers.

It is currently running flights from China to Hungary in order to deliver medical equipment such as protective gear and coronavirus test kits. Shares nudged 1.5% higher at £21.30.

Rival low-cost airline easyJet said it had received a request from founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou to call a general meeting to remove Andreas Bierwirth as a director of the company. Shares dropped 1.9% to 519.6p.

William Hill said it had appointed Matt Ashley as its chief financial officer with effect from 6 April 2020, while Stephen Parry will take up the role of chief operating officer later in the year. Shares drifted 0.3% to 66.72p.

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