StockMarketWire.com - UK equities ended Wednesday's session in positive territory despite the result of the US election hanging in the balance, with postal ballots still being counted.

A change at the White House is still on the cards, despite Donald Trump's victory claim, but not before a possible wave of recounts and legal spats.

Today's gains also reflected the fact that a Joe Biden Presidency, without full control of congress, would remove the risk of tax hikes.

The FTSE 100 finished 1.67% higher at 5,883.26, while the FTSE 250 closed 1.74% up at 17,796.10.

MARKS & SPENCER HAILS 'ROBUST' PERFORMANCE

Drugs giant AstraZeneca was in demand, bid up 6.75% to £85 on the news the UK government could roll out its vaccine by the end of December, while construction products firm CRH fell 4.8% to £24.08 as the disputed election result threatened to hold up expected infrastructure spend across the Atlantic.

Retailer Marks & Spencer rallied 5.5% to 97.1p despite seeing revenue fall 15.8% in the six-month period to 26 September, as it hailed a 'robust performance' overall in the face of Covid-19.

The company posted a statutory pre-tax loss of £87.6m, down from a pre-tax profit of £158.8m a year ago, but free cash flow was up from £23.3m to £77.6m.

Its food business saw life-for-like sales growth of 2.7%, and 6.6% if hospitality is taken out of the equation, with the company also enjoying a net profit of £38.8 million from its 50% share of Ocado Retail.

Packaging company Smurfit Kappa increased 3.2% to £31.92 after it reported a third quarter performance ahead of internal expectations with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of €390m.

For the nine months to 30 September the company delivered EBITDA of €1.13bn at an EBITDA margin of 17.8%. The company said it was still on track to deliver full year earnings in a range of €1.46bn to €1.48bn.

The company announced a quarterly dividend of 27.9 cent per share putting it in line with 'the dividend payment cycles of previous years', according to CEO Tony Smurfit.

Food company Kerry gained 4% to €108.7 after it reinstated earnings guidance, forecasting a return to growth in the fourth quarter on signs of recovery in its foodservice business.

Premier Foods finished 5.4% higher at 103.6p after confirming it is in talks concerning a sale of its 49% stake in Hovis.

The Mr Kipling cakes-to-Bisto gravy maker was responding to media reports and a statement from Newlat Foods, with the Italian company confirming it is interested in making a bid. However, Premier Foods said there can be no certainty that any transaction will conclude.

OTHER COMPANY NEWS

Construction firm Morgan Sindall gained 7.4% to £12.50 as it said it expected full year profit to be slightly above the top end of its previously guided range of £50m to £60m.

Sub-prime credit provider Provident Financial rose 5% to 245p after it continued to trade in-line with internal plans in the third quarter and remained on track to hit expectations for 2020.

Fund manager Apax Global Alpha edged 0.5% higher to 160p after it reported strong third-quarter performance as net asset value return grew thanks to a boost from its private equity portfolio.

For the three months ended 30 September 2020, net asset value return was 8.5% as the private equity portfolio returned 12.4% in the quarter. The company paid a dividend of 4.87p during the period.

Cybersecurity services provider ECSC jumped 3.7% to 70p after it said third-quarter revenue had exceeded its average quarterly revenue for 2019.


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