StockMarketWire.com - UK stocks fell substantially in early trade on Friday as geopolitical tensions between the US and China offset any positive sentiment generated from a rebound in local retail sales.

At 0827, the benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 96.29 points, or 1.6%, at 6,115.15.

The fall came despite UK retail sales bouncing back 13.9% in June as lockdown measures were eased.

US-Sino relations hit a new low after China ordered the US to shut a consulate in Chengdu, in retaliation for being ordered to shut a consulate in Houston.

In corporate news, energy utility Centrica leapt 23% to 49.85p after it agreed to sell North American unit Direct Energy to NRG Energy for $3.63bn, strengthening its balance sheet and improving its ability to pay dividends.

Centrica, which owns British Gas, also reported another first-half loss, amid a 7.5% drop in revenue.

Telecom group Vodafone reversed 3.5% to 124.36p as its first-quarter revenue slipped 1.4%, due to the Covid-19 crisis sapping demand for roaming services and delaying projects.

At the same time, Vodafone said it still expected its annual adjusted operating earnings to be flat or slightly lower. It also said an IPO of the Vantage Towers infrastructure business was on track for early 2021.

Plumbing company Ferguson firmed 2.0% to £70.10 on reporting that its performance had steadied in the fourth quarter, as lockdown measures eased.

For the period from 1 May to 21 July, Ferguson's revenue fell 3.6%, compared with a 15.3% fall in April.

Educational publisher Pearson slipped 2.6% to 535.6p, despite having posted a rise in first-half profit. Pressure on revenue from the Covid-19 crisis was offset by a gain on the sale of the company's interest in book group Penguin Random House.

Pearson held its interim dividend steady at 6p a share and said it expected to deliver annual operating profit in line with expectations, as students go back to school.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca shed 2.9% to £84.9993, even as its drug to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease gained approval in the US.

Engineering company IMI rallied 5.0% to £10.5651 after it reinstated its 2019 final dividend of 26.2p per share, having posted a 5% rise in first-half profit for the six months through June.

IMI was remaining cautious, though: it halved its interim dividend for 2020 to 7.5p per share.

Online wine retailer Naked Wines rose 1.7% to 412p on reporting a 67% surge in sales during the month of June, bringing growth for its fiscal first quarter to 77%.

Naked Wines also announced that chairman John Walden would stand down in August for personal reasons.

Fashion retailer French Connection jumped 43% to 7.16p after it started seeing a revival in sales, having reopened its physical stores on 15 July.

French Connection said sales remained low, though it was seeing a gradual week-on-week improvement.

Industrial chain manufacturer Renold added 1.5% to 10.71p on announcing that it had been profitable in each month of the first quarter of 2020, despite orders falling due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Renold also said it had seen gradual improvements in trading since April. Story provided by StockMarketWire.com