StockMarketWire.com - UK markets stayed in the red in midday trading despite a late morning spell in positive territory, weighed down by the news from England's chief medical officer at yesterday's briefing that social restrictions are set to remain in place for the rest of 2020.

But human trials of a coronavirus vaccine are set to start today (23 April) and a rebound in the oil price has continued, with Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate futures rallying around 7%and 11% respectively.

The UK's benchmark FTSE 100 index had nudged around 0.2% lower as of 12pm, trading at 5,758.49, but midcaps were firmer.

The FTSE 250 index made solid 0.6% gains to trade at 15,686.3.

FLAT SALES AND INVESTORS FOR UNILEVER

Consumer goods company Unilever shed 2.5% to £41.36 after reporting flat growth over all in the first quarter, and underlying 1.7% declines in its foods and refreshment division.

Underlying sales up 2.4% in its homecare unit was a positive, as is news that the group has committed to maintain its quarterly dividend.

Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey topped the FTSE 100 leader board, rallying close on 11% to 149.35p on news that it plans a 'phased return' to site construction and operating in May as a new digital reservation process helped its order book to increase this year.

Rival builder Vistry, the former Bovis Homes, announced that it would re-open almost all of its partnership sites and housing sites from next week, while also seeing an increase in net reservations of new homes. The shares jumped 10% to 797.5p.

The news lifted the entire UK sector, with Persimmon and Barratt both firmly higher.

COMPASS BINS PAYOUT

Foodservice company Compass managed to reverse modest losses earlier today to trade modestly higher at £13.21 despite scrapping its dividend for this fiscal year to conserve cash.

The company also reported half-year revenue gains of 1.6%, in-line with guidance given last month, with more than half of its businesses shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cash-strapped luxury carmaker Aston Martin rose 4% to 49.96p as it announced it had geared up to resume manufacturing at its St Athan facility on May 5.

IT infrastructure firm Computacenter is up 1.9% at £15.13 after it announced it too has pulled its dividend due to the heightened economic uncertainty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the company has maintained its annual guidance and expected first-half profit to be broadly in-line, or slightly ahead of last year's.

SOLID INDUSTRIALS TRADING

Aerospace and defence contractor Meggitt jumped 6.5% to 264p as it announced a 15% reduction in its global workforce in response to a significant fall in demand across its civil aerospace business due to Covid-19.

However, trading in the first quarter of 2020 was ahead of the comparative period, with group revenue up 5% on an organic basis.

Specialty chemical-maker Croda was also firmer, albeit mildly, adding 0.2% to £47.73 after it unveiled a solid first quarter performance, with turnover in line with the previous year and with management expectations, and its order book 'in line with normal circumstances.'

The group also confirmed that, thanks to its solid financial position and low leverage, it would honour the final 2019 dividend of 50.5p per share.

Sofa seller DFS rallied 17% to 150.4p after it was able to raise roughly £64m in a share placing at 150p, a 16.3% premium to last night's closing price of 129p.

The new shares represent close to 20% of the firm's previously issued capital.

Gulf Keystone Petroleum leaped more than 10% to 80p after it suspended its guidance and reported a sharp drop in profit as plunge in oil prices weighed on performance.

The energy operator and producer reported for the year ended 31 December 2019, pre-tax profit fell to $43.5m from $79.7m on-year as revenue fell to $206.7m from $250.6m, but this was presumably no worse than investors had anticipated.

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