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What to Watch: WHSmith seeks cash, rise in stocks and sterling, building work collapses

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
A WHSmith store at Holborn in London, England. (John Keeble/Getty Images)

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

WHSmith seeks cash from investors amid downturn

WH Smith (SMWH.L) has secured a new £120m ($147m) loan and will raise more cash from investors to survive the coronavirus downturn.

It highlighted the impact of a “substantial downturn in economic activity” from COVID-19. Its shares have slumped in recent weeks, but edged 0.6% higher on the announcement on Monday. Around 60% of its stores have temporarily closed after the government ordered non-essential retailers to shut their doors.

The company said the new lending facility was conditional on it raising new equity, with preparations to raise up to 13.7% of its issued share capital through new shares.

Stocks rise as global growth of COVID-19 slows

European stock markets opened higher on Monday, as investors looked optimistically at the slowing global growth of COVID-19.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) opened up 3% in London, the DAX (^GDAXI) surged 4% in Germany, and the CAC 40 (^FCHI) climbed 3.3% in Paris.

Analysts pointed to the slowing growth of global COVID-19 cases and a deceleration in deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.

US futures were pointing to a strong open later today. S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were up 3.9%, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) were 3.9% higher, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were up 4.1%.

Overnight in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) closed up 4.2%, the Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) was up 2.1%. while China’s Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) ended down 0.6%.

Pound rises with UK prime minister ‘in charge’ in hospital

Boris Johnson is “still very much in charge” of the UK government despite spending the night in hospital with the coronavirus, according to a cabinet minister.

The prime minister is expected to undergo fresh tests on Monday, after being advised to go to hospital on Sunday night.

The pound fell after Johnson was admitted on Sunday, but rose 0.4% against the dollar (GBPUSD=X) after the minister’s comments on Monday morning.

"When a head of state or government is stricken like this, it will cause concern for holders of sterling and sterling assets," Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo, told Reuters.

Rolls-Royce shares rise despite £300m hit from virus

Rolls-Royce’ shares soared on Monday despite the company scrapping its targets and final dividend to protect itself against the coronavirus.

The engine maker suspended its dividend for the first time since 1987. Its revenue from its airline customers, based on flight levels, has taken a £300m hit from the pandemic, as air travel has collapsed around the world.

But its cost-cutting measures and progress addressing problems with its Trent 1000 engines appeared to reassure investors, sending shares 14% higher on Monday.

It plans to cut its wage bill by 10% including a 20% pay cut for the board for 2020, a freeze on external hiring and a suspension of the £137m final dividend.

UK construction PMI: steepest downturn in a decade

Construction work has collapsed. (PA)

UK building firms are slashing jobs at the fastest pace in almost a decade, suffering a steep downturn in work as the coronavirus ripples through the sector.

A closely watched survey of construction leaders showed the fastest monthly decline in employment numbers since 2010 and in levels of business since 2009.

Analysts said it pointed to the worst economic downturn in a century, coming alongside separate figures on Monday showing UK consumer confidence and new car registrations collapsing.

The headline figure on a purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for the sector plummeted to 39.3 in March from 52.6 in February. Figures above 50 show growth and below 50 show decline on the index, based on a survey carried out by IHS Markit and the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS).

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