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What to watch: Southampton team's coronavirus test, Asos raises £247m, oil rises

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
An employee at a lab where express tests for the new coronavirus are being conducted. (Kirill Zykov/Moscow News Agency via AP)

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

Test by Novacyt’s Southampton team gets WHO approval

A coronavirus test developed by a Southampton-based team has been given procurement eligibility by the World Health Organization (WHO), Novacyt (ALNOV.PA) said.

Shares in Novacyt climbed by 19% in Paris on Wednesday after the biotechnology group, which focuses on medical diagnostics, said that the test would be eligible for procurement for one year unless circumstances change.

“The Emergency Use Listing by the WHO importantly provides further validation of our COVID-19 test and gives government agencies around the world further confidence in the effectiveness of our test,” said Novacyt CEO Graham Mullis.

Novacyt, which is headquartered in France and has offices in Surrey, said that the test had been developed by Primerdesign, its molecular diagnostics division, which is based in Southampton.

Testing has become a flashpoint in the coronavirus crisis, as countries and governments struggle to ramp up efforts to track and contain the virus.

Asos surges as it raises £247m to weather storm

Asos (ASC.L) has successfully raised £247m ($304m) from investors to help it survive the coronavirus pandemic.

The online fashion retailer said on Wednesday it had successfully placed 15.8m of new shares with investors. Shares were sold at £15.60 each — a slight premium to Tuesday’s closing price — and 95% were sold to existing investors.

The new shares issued represent approximately 18.8% of the business prior to issue.

Asos’s stock was trading 32.9% higher to £20.62 on Wednesday morning after the successful capital raise.

Asos first announced plans to raise extra capital on Tuesday afternoon. The company said it was also negotiating an extension to its credit facility and was talking to the Bank of England about accessing its corporate credit support programme.

Tesco shares sink on £925m coronavirus hit

Tesco (TSCO.L) shares slumped on Wednesday after it warned the coronavirus crisis could cost it up to £925m ($1.14bn) and declined to publish new financial forecasts.

Investors sold stocks in Britain’s biggest supermarket chain despite it confirming a 30% surge in UK sales and the green light for a £5bn ($6.15bn) dividend payment.

It said shoppers had “cleared the supply chain” of certain products, though panic buying has now begun to subside. It has hired more than 45,000 new staff in the past fortnight alone.

Higher sales have come alongside higher costs, with Tesco highlighting a significant leap in payroll and distribution costs. New hires have been not only to meet extra demand but also to “cover the work of those colleagues who are absent and being paid,” it said in its preliminary 2019-2020 results published on Wednesday.

Oil climbs amid hopes of production deal

Oil prices looked set to snap a two-day losing streak on Wednesday as traders hoped that an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia could reduce global output by 10 million barrels per day.

Crude oil (CL=F) was trading 3% higher at $24.34 per barrel. Brent (BZ=F) rose by 0.19% to $31.93.

In comments on Fox News, US president Donald Trump said once again that he expects the two countries to resolve the price war.

“I think it’s all going to work out,” Trump said, noting that he had spoken to Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about low oil prices.

Investors now expect significant progress when members of OPEC, which consists of 14 of the world’s major oil-exporting nations, and allied producers meet on Thursday.

Stocks fall as eurozone leaders fail to agree coronavirus stimulus

Stocks in Europe fell on Wednesday after marathon talks among eurozone leaders failed to produce agreement on further coronavirus stimulus measures.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX) fell by more than 1.3% after Mario Centeno, who chairs the 19-member group, said that discussions would resume on Thursday.

London’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) declined by around 1.8%, while Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was down by around 1.2%. France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was 2.1% in the red.

“After 16 hours of discussions we came close to a deal but we are not there yet,” Centeno said in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

Leaders were unable to agree on the conditions for new lending from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the common currency area’s bailout fund.

What to expect in the US

Futures were pointing to a lower open for US stocks on Wednesday.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) fell by around 0.2%, as did Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F). Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) fell by 0.1%.