StockMarketWire.com - UK stocks closed close to their lows for the day on Friday as ongoing concerns over China-US relations negated positive news on the UK economy in the shape of much better June retail sales and the biggest upturn in business sentiment in five years.

At 4.35pm the benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 88 points or 1.4% at 6,124, with insurers Legal & General, M&G and Prudential contributing to the losses.

LARGE- AND MID-CAP MOVERS

In corporate news, energy utility Centrica leapt 17% to 47.2p 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.

Engineering company IMI rallied 7% to £10.74 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 remained cautious however, halving its interim dividend for 2020 to 7.5p per share.

Plumbing and heating supplies company Ferguson firmed 1.7% to £69.92 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.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the largest stock in the FSTE 100, dipped 1.4% to £86.32 even as its drug to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease gained regulatory approval in the US.

Educational publisher Pearson slipped 1% to 544p, despite posting 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 per share and said it expected to deliver annual operating profit in line with expectations, as students go back to school.

Telecom group Vodafone reversed 4.7% to 122.7p as 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.

SMALL-CAP MOVERS

Online wine retailer Naked Wines firmed 0.3% to 406p 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 was the star performer, jumping more than 100% at one point after it said it was seeing a revival in sales, having reopened its physical stores on 15 July.

French Connection said sales remained low, but it was seeing a gradual week-on-week improvement. Shares ended the day up 63% at 8.2p.


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