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FTSE 100 continues descent; confusion over AstraZeneca/EU meeting to discuss COVID-19 vaccine suppli

  • FTSE 100 index closes down 86 points
  • EU clears Boeing 737 MAX
  • Miners top laggards

5.05pm: FTSE closes lower

FTSE 100 finished the midweek session sharply lower as traders await the Fed’s interest rate decision later and miners took a hit as the gold price fell.

Britain’s blue-chip benchmark closed the day down over 86 points at 6,567. The midcap peer FTSE 250 was also lower, down around 170 points at 20,278.

“The Federal Reserve is expected to keep their policy on hold, the interest rate decision will be posted at 7pm (UK time),” said CMC market analyst David Madden in a note.

“Last month, the Fed confirmed the asset purchases will be at least $120 billion per month. Even though the US recovery has a long way to go, there is already chatter of a taper tantrum, so the Fed is unlikely to say anything that would spark those fears.

“At the same time, the US central bank won’t want to give off the impression that they are overly keen on boosting the existing stimulus scheme, so it will be a balancing act for Jerome Powell, the Fed chair.

Top laggard on Footsie was precious metal giant Fresnillo (LON:FRES), which shed around 13% at 924p. Anglo American (LON:AAL) lost 6.21% at 2,354.5p.

3.35pm: EU clears Boeing 737 MAX after two-year grounding

FTSE 100 pared its losses before close but was still 94 points lower at 6,566.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said a modified version of the Boeing 737 MAX is now fit for flying after the model was grounded in March 2019 following two deadly crashes which claimed 346 lives.

The root cause of these accidents was traced to software known as the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), intended to make the plane easier to handle, but it kicked in repeatedly if that sensor malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the aircraft downward multiple times.

In both accidents, pilots finally lost control of their plane, resulting in a crash with total loss of aircraft.

The approval only applies to EU member states, but the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is also expected to release an update soon.

3.15pm: Proactive North America headlines:

Cabral Gold Inc (CVE:CBR) (OTCPINK:CBGZF) (FRA:C3J) releases sampling results from Jerimum Meio target on the Cuiu Cuiu project showing high-grade gold mineralization at surface

Gevo Inc (NASDAQ:GEVO) (FRA:ZGV3) flushed with $535M in cash and no significant debt as it announces key business updates and initiatives for 2021

NetCents Technology Inc (CSE:NC) (FRA:26N) (OTCQB:NCCTF) CEO Clayton Moore says 2020 ‘hastened’ the transformation of cryptocurrency in letter to shareholders

Q BioMed Inc (OTCQB:QBIO) drug receives US Food & Drug Administration orphan drug designation

NexTech AR Solutions Corp (OTCQB:NEXCF) (NEO:NTAR) (FRA:N29) CEO Evan Gappelberg acquires 250,000 NexTech shares

Ascendant Resources Inc (TSE:ASND) (OTCMKTS:ASDRF) (FRA:2D9 starts more drilling at South Zone at Lagoa Salgada in bid to expand resource

Aurania Resources Ltd (CVE:ARU) (OTCQB:AUIAF)(FRA:20Q) bolsters board with experienced investment management executive

Mawson Gold Limited (TSE:MAW) (OTCPINK:MWSNF) (FRA:MXR) aims to have 20,000 metres of resource expansion drilling completed in Finland by mid-April

American Resources Corporation (NASDAQ:AREC) secures U$10 million of non-dilutive financing

Viscount Mining Corp (CVE:VML) (OTCQB:VLMGF) set to start second phase of drilling in Colorado next month

2.44pm: Wall Street opens on the back foot as investors await Fed, tech earnings

The main indices on Wall Street started Wednesday’s session in the red as investors seemed content to stick on their hands ahead of the Federal Reserve meeting and earnings from several tech giants.

In the first minutes of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.13% at 30,587 while the S&P 500 dropped 1.26% to 3,801 and the Nasdaq fell 1.72% to 13,392.

However, one stock having an excellent start to the day was GameStop, which continued its breakneck ascent at the opening bell with a 291.7% gain to US$300.82.

Meanwhile, another apparent beneficiary of the “short squeeze” phenomenon was cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc (NYSE:AMC) which soared 270.6% to US$16.38 in early dealings.

Back in London, the FTSE 100’s losses deepened into late afternoon, with the blue-chip index down 124 points at 6,529 at around 2.45pm.

1.50pm: Boris Johnson keeps school closed until March, imposes hotel quarantine for certain travellers

The Footsie held its losses and remained 89 points underwater at 6,564 as Boris Johnson made a statement on the current state of restrictions.

The Prime Minister said there is “not enough data to know when it will be safe to reopen our society and economy” and MPs will set out a plan to exit lockdown once they come back from the half-term break on February 22, based on the number of infections and vaccinations.

As a result, schools in England are not expected to reopen next month, with a potential return to the classroom eyed for March 8.

The government has also officialised the mandatory hotel quarantine rumoured earlier this week.

The measure will mostly affect UK citizens and residents, since nationals from most foreign high-risk countries are not allowed to enter British grounds.

It will apply to inbound travellers from 22 countries including South Africa, several parts of South America and Portugal because of its ties with Brazil.

1.10pm: Wall Street to open lower

FTSE 100 is showing no signs of improvement and had plummeted 84 points to 6,569 at lunchtime.

Wall Street is also expected to open lower amid pre-Fed meeting jitters while GameStop Corp (NYSE:GME), the short squeeze, continues to grab everyone’s attention with the stock now up a whopping 93% to US$147.98.

It is also a busy day for quarterly earnings, with Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) and Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) all scheduled for Wednesday.

READ: Short sellers squeezed as more retail investors pile into GameStop rally

The first of eight US Federal Reserve policy meetings for the year is not expected by economists to lead to any changes in interest rates or quantitative easing (QE).

With interest rates unchanged since last March’s cut, Fed head Jerome Powell is expected by markets to announce that the US central bank will stand pat, with the headline cost of debt staying at 0.25% and QE running at US$120bn a month.

“Economists will look for commentary on inflation, employment and the US economy but the Fed seems in no rush at all to tighten policy,” noted Russ Mould at AJ Bell, “especially as it is moving to inflation averaging as a target – so that it will tolerate an overshoot in inflation relative to its 2% target after any prolonged period of undershooting it. At the moment, that means a fair portion of the last decade.”

“Whether steamy financial markets, where there are clear signs of asset price inflation, need any further incentive to run hot is open to debate and the Fed has a tricky balancing act to manage as it tries to support the economy and avoid a third market bubble in just over 20 years (something which some argue it is already failing to do).”

12.05pm: Confusion over AstraZeneca/EU meeting to discuss COVID-19 vaccine supplies

FTSE 100 continued its descent at noon, losing 55 points to 6,598.

The row between AstraZeneca and the EU over COVID-19 vaccine supplies continued as the two parties postponed their meeting to Thursday.

READ: AstraZeneca defends against vaccine allegations amid EU tit-for-tat over Pfizer jab

The two parties were meant to hold talks today but there was some confusion earlier this morning after it was reported that the FTSE 100 pharma giant had cancelled the meeting.

The company later told Sky News that it did not do so and the meeting was still happening today, while Austria’s health minister said the firm has in fact moved it to tomorrow.

AstraZeneca has postponed today’s round of negotiations until tomorrow. From my point of view that is not a big problem,” Rudolf Anschober told Reuters.

Also on Wednesday, AstraZeneca issued a statement on its website saying it understands and shares the frustration experienced by the EU Commission.

“This is mainly due to lower than anticipated production yield impacting the number of doses produced per batch,” it said.

“We continue to work with our supply partners to optimise this process to ensure the vaccine is produced at the scale and pace required, while retaining the highest quality standards.”

11.25am: Are top shorted stocks Pearson, Cineworld the UK reaction to GameStop?

FTSE 100 dropped further late morning, shedding 36 points to 6,617.

Pearson PLC (LON:PSON) and Cineworld Group PLC (LON:CINE) may well be the UK’s response to GameStop after their shares rallied on Wednesday in the absence of trading updates.

READ: Short sellers left bloodied by GameStop rally

The education group rallied 11% to 841.67p, making it the top blue-chip riser on Wednesday, while the troubled cinema operator shot up 13% to 82.6p.

They are both among the most shorted stocks in London, meaning some investment funds are betting on share price drops on the back of bad trading performances.

While Cineworld is being crushed by billions of debt with no signs of a swift reopening of cinemas, Pearson posted a promising update last week where it reported a return to quarterly growth.

“Recently, the US group GameStop, has undergone erratic moves as there is a tussle between short-sellers and buyers. It might be the case that funds are flowing into Pearson to shake out some of the short-sellers,” said David Madden at CMC Markets.

10.05am: AstraZeneca says UK can reach mid-February COVID-19 vaccination target

FTSE 100 was treading water in mid-morning, shedding 13 points to 6,640, as sterling was flat at US$1.3742.

AstraZeneca PLC’s (LON:AZN) boss Pascal Soriot said the UK should be able to reach its target to give the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 15mln people in the top four priority groups by mid-February.

“By March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 to 30mln people,” he said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

“The prime minister has a goal to vaccinate 15mln people by mid-February, and they’re already at 6.5mln. So they will get there.”

He also said that the issues experienced with supply to the EU are happening because the bloc signed a supply deal three months after the UK, as there have been “teething problems”, so Britain had more time to fix them.

“As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches,” he told the paper.

8.45am: Slow start to Wednesday

The FTSE 100 opened with a whimper rather than a bang with London’s traders keeping their powder dry ahead of updates from big tech and the US Federal Reserve meeting later on Wednesday.

The UK blue-chip index fell 3 points to 6,651.59.

Stateside, the market’s news flow after hours was dominated by the early corporate reporting season with robust showings for 3M and Johnson & Johnson.

The star amid the flurry of updates was Microsoft, which posted a better-than-expected 33% rise in profitability, in no small part due to the popularity of its Azure cloud computing solution.

“In the UK, markets are being hamstrung by the slowing momentum, with a lack of obvious near-term positive catalysts combining with the resilience of sterling to crimp gains in the major index,” said Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.

“The FTSE100 remains ahead by 2.3% in the year to date, although its exposure to cyclical businesses such as the oils and banks currently leaves those sectors in suspended animation before any economic recovery kicks in.”

There was some early mystery around the 13% ascent of educational publisher Pearson (LON:PSON).

Not so the rise of Centrica (LON:CAN), now a FTSE 250 constituent. The British Gas owner was given a 4.6% boost by a Goldman Sachs ‘buy’ recommendation.

Cineworld (LON:CINE) was the top mid-cap riser, up 6.6% as it recouped a small portion of its recent losses. The company’s GBP208mln bonus scheme drew stinging criticism coming, as it does, in the middle of an existential crisis for picture house chain.

Proactive news headlines:

EQTEC PLC (LON:EQT) said it has received local council approval for a 25MWe waste-to-gas plant at Billingham, Teeside. The resolution from Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council is for a revised scheme that EQTEC said both improves the economics of the project and reduces the size of the footprint of the plant. EQTEC signed an option to acquire the land at the Haverton Hill site in December.

Seeing Machines Limited (LON:SEE) said it has agreed to partner with US computing firm Qualcomm Inc (NASDAQ:QCOM) to design a driver monitoring system (DMS) incorporating its cabin monitoring technologies. The AIM-listed firm said as part of the relationship it will work to further optimise its technology stack for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform (SACP) architecture and its acceleration hardware for use with automakers and tier-1 suppliers. The company also said its previously announced embedded development kit (EDK) for the Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Development is now available to select tier-1 and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers.

Redx Pharma PLC (LON:REDX) has said its current cash runway provides the group with the ability to deliver multiple inflexion points by the end of next year. The drug developer, which has one candidate in the clinic and another set to undergo a phase I study, had over GBP48mln in the bank as of the end of last year. Results from a first in man study of RXC004, a potentially best-in-class porcupine inhibitor targeting solid tumours, are expected by the middle of this year. RXC007, for fibrosis, is set to enter phase I in the first half.

88 Energy Ltd (LON:88E) shares rallied in Wednesday’s opening deals after it last night told investors that field operations for the Merlin exploration well are expected to get underway in Alaska in the next few days. It comes after a number of days of regulatory uncertainty amidst certain interim changes to the permitting for oil and gas projects in the United States, following the inauguration of Joe Biden as America’s new president. Nonetheless, the company in a statement last night said that the Alaska branch of the Bureau of Land Management is currently reviewing the company’s permit to drill and the authority has indicated that it is now very close to being complete with only minor outstanding items.

Diversified Gas & Oil PLC (LON:DGOC) has said its average production increased by 18% to around 100,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) in. 2020, marking a new company record. The company noted that its ‘Smarter Asset Management’ programme continued to offset natural declines within the portfolio. It also pointed out that operating expenses were marked at US$5.58 per barrel, whilst total cash costs equated to US$6.93 per barrel. A robust hedging portfolio, meanwhile, provides the company with cash flow and dividend stability, the group added.

FastForward Innovations Ltd (LON:FFWD) has said its portfolio company EMMAC Life Sciences, in which it holds a 2.3% stake, has been selected as a supplier for an upcoming medical cannabis trial in France through its partnership with homoeopathic products maker Boiron. In an announcement late on Tuesday afternoon, EMMAC said the trial, the first of its kind in France, will allow 3,000 patients access to medical cannabis as a treatment option for certain ailments including chronic pain, epilepsy, oncology and spasticity under tightly controlled conditions.

Crossword Cybersecurity PLC (LON:CCS) said it has made a limited use version of its third-party risk assurance platform Rizikon Assurance freely available to around 10,000 members of the Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIIS). The company said for the lifetime of their membership CIIS members will be able to send a number of online assessments per year to suppliers and third parties to assess their security posture, both pre and post-contract award.

Europa Metals Ltd (LON:EUZ) said it has hired Adam Habib as a corporate development adviser to its board. The senior banker’s remit is to help maximise value for Europa Metals shareholders and, the group said, he will give corporate development/transactional the company seeks to advance to the next stage in its development. “Europa Metals will look to secure value for shareholders through the potential execution of meaningful transaction opportunities in line with our stated strategy,” said Myles Campion, executive chairman in a statement.

Catenae Innovation PLC (LON:CTEA) has raised GBP1mln to enhance its technology and build on its business strategy. The digital technology specialist has sold 50mln shares at 2p each in an oversubscribed placing. The new stock comes with a warrant attached to every two shares bought. The exercise price for warrants is 3p. In an accompanying business update, Catenae said its coronavirus (COVID-19) testing platform, which securely records and feeds results into Public Health England’s database, has been implemented by 18 pharmacies, a major mobile operator and Badminton England.

Applied Graphene Materials PLC (LON:AGM) raised GBP6mln overnight from institutions and private investors for working capital to help it serve expected growth in customer and product demand. An accelerated placing raised GBP5.3mln at a price of 41p per share, a discount of 39% to previous day’s closing price, with another GBP0.7 raised via a subscription and offer on the PrimaryBid platform, the company confirmed in a statement on Wednesday.

Tower Resources PLC (LON:TRP), the AIM-listed oil and gas company with its focus on Africa said it has issued 20,000,000 ordinary shares in the company to EPI Group, in lieu of fees to the value of GBP65,000. EPI Group provides geological and geophysical services to the company under a strategic relationship that has been in place since 2015.

Quadrise Fuels International PLC (LON:QFI) has announced that, following receipt of a notice of exercise in respect of the convertible security issued by the company on August 30, 2019, to convert GBP500,000 of the convertible security into new ordinary shares at a conversion price of 2.0p per new ordinary share, the company has issued 25,000,000 new ordinary shares. No amount now remains outstanding under the convertible security, it added.

Condor Gold PLC (LON:CNR) (TSX:COG) has announced that following receipt of notice for the exercise of warrants from Jim Mellon, a non-executive director of the company, it is issuing 1,562,500 new ordinary shares with a nominal value of 20p each at a subscription price of 31p per share. The company has received gross proceeds of GBP484,375 Accordingly, further to the purchase, Mellon owns, directly and indirectly, a shareholding of 20,289,463 Condor Gold ordinary shares or 16.8% of the company.

Tiziana Life Sciences PLC (NASDAQ:TLSA) (LON:TILS), a biotechnology company focused on innovative therapeutics for oncology, inflammation, and infectious diseases announced that it has filed a “universal” shelf registration statement on Form F-3 (File No. 333-252441) with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in relation to up to US$250,000,000 in market value of its securities. The filing of “universal” shelf registration statements of this type, a common practice by NASDAQ-listed companies, enables issuers to have more timely and efficient access to the US capital markets.

Aminex PLC (LON:AEX) has said an extraordinary general meeting of the company will be held at Kings Buildings, 16 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JJ on February 18, 2021, at 10.00am. The business of the EGM will be to consider and, if thought fit, approve certain resolutions relating to the replacement of CREST with a system operated by Euroclear Bank SA/NV for the electronic settlement of trading in the Company’s ordinary shares. As a result of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the CREST settlement system will soon no longer be able to provide settlement services to Irish incorporated listed companies. Approval of the resolutions is, therefore, necessary to ensure that the company’s shares can continue to be held and settled electronically when they are traded on the London Stock Exchange and remain eligible for continued admission to trading and listing on that exchange, which is crucial to the interests of the company and its shareholders as a whole. There is no meaningful alternative to migration and failure to migrate would remove the Company’s access to electronic trade settlement.

Remote Monitored Systems plc (LON:RMS) said a general meeting of the company (has been convened to request approval for, inter alia, the issue of the placing warrants and broker warrants in connection with the fundraising, announced on December 18, 2020. The meeting will be held at 1.00pm on February 12, 2021, at the offices of Pharm2Farm Ltd, BioCity Nottingham, Pennyfoot Street, Nottingham NG1 1GF, United Kingdom. In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, voting will only be able to take place by proxy and no shareholder will be allowed entry into the meeting. Shareholders will be able to submit questions by emailing ahead of the meeting. Only questions in relation to the resolutions or business of the meeting will be considered.

6.50am: A lot of waiting to come

The FTSE 100 is expected to start lower on Wednesday as investors await a big set of earnings from US tech giants as well as the outcome of the first meeting of the Federal Reserve in 2021, all due after the London close.

Spread-betters IG expect the FTSE 100 to open 25 points lower after ending Tuesday’s session 15 points higher at 6,654.

Market sentiment may also be taking a hit from the prospect of more coronavirus-related lockdowns across the UK and Europe, particularly after Britain announced the death toll from the virus had passed 100,000 yesterday afternoon.

The anticipation over earnings and the Fed meant the main US indices finished slightly lower overnight, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down 0.07% at 30,937 while the S&P 500 dropped 0.15% to 3,849 and the Nasdaq Composite fell 0.07% to 13,626.

However, earnings season for big tech got off to a good start after the closing bell as computing giant Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT) reported second-quarter earnings that beat market expectations.

A more positive mood was also evident in Asia this morning, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 up 0.31% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.09%.

On currency markets, the pound was relatively flat against the dollar at around US$1.374, although any news from the Fed meeting later today could provide some catalysts for movement.

Around the markets:

  • Sterling: US$1.374, no change
  • Brent crude: US$56.32 a barrel, up 0.7%
  • Gold: US$1,849 an ounce, down 0.06%
  • Bitcoin: US$31,670, down 0.7%

6.45am: Early Markets – Asia / Australia

Stocks in the Asia-Pacific region were mixed on Wednesday after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its growth forecast for the global economy this year.

The IMF now expects the global economy to grow by 5.5% this year, a 0.3% increase from October’s forecasts.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan rose 0.31% while South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.46%.

Chinese stocks were lower with the Shanghai Composite dipping 0.14%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.03%.

Shares in Australia fell, with the S&P/ASX 200 closing 0.65% lower.

Proactive Australia news:

King River Resources Ltd (ASX:KRR) has discovered a new high-grade gold zone at the Mount Remarkable project in Western Australia, following the return of 6 metres at 5.25 g/t gold including 1 metre at 30.1 g/t from the 2020 reverse circulation drilling program.

Kingwest Resources Ltd (ASX:KWR) has intersected high-grade gold mineralisation from the recently completed drill holes at Menzies Gold Project in Western Australia.

Alicanto Minerals Ltd (ASX:AQI) has intersected strong visuals from initial drilling at The Swamp Thing target within its Greater Falun copper-gold project in Sweden.

Pantoro Ltd (ASX:PNR) (FRA:RKN) has received first-pass drilling results at the Halls Creek Project in Western Australia’s East Kimberley region, all returning ore-grade mineralisation from three new prospects.

Alkane Resources Limited (ASX:ALK) (OTCMKTS:ALKEF) (FRA:AK7) has completed infill drilling of the San Antonio deposit resource at its Tomingley Gold Project in New South Wales.

Chalice Mining Ltd‘s (ASX:CHN) (OTCQB:CGMLF) ongoing exploration activities at its 100%-owned Julimar Nickel-Copper-Platinum Group Element (PGE) Project, about 70 kilometres north-east of Perth, WA has defined four new high-grade zones.

Pan African Resources highlights 5.9% rise in gold production

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