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Pubs and bus companies among top risers

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Pub landlords and bus companies were among the top risers on Friday afternoon as progress on the UK vaccine rollout led to optimism for various domestically focused companies.

Reports that Boris Johnson is planning an announcement later this month to reveal what restrictions will be lifted on pubs helped send shares in both Mitchells & Butlers (LON:MAB) and City Pub Group PLC (LON:CPC) bubbling up around 12% to 362.25p and 116.74p respectively, while JD Wetherspoon (LON:JDW) and Marston’s (LON:MARS) were up 4% and 5%.

Britain will largely be back to normal by May, according to an earlier front page splash in the Daily Mail. “If the vaccine program goes the way we think it will go, then you will start to see quite a quick return to normal in April and May,” a Whitehall source was quoted as saying.

A return to normality helped domestic travel groups FirstGroup (LON:FGP) and National Express (LON:NEX), up 8% and 7% respectively.

But beating them both were Aggreko (LON:AGK) and Beazley Group (LON:BEZ), up 36% and 18% respectively.

Aggreko said has entered talks about a potential cash offer after receiving “a series of proposals” from Anglo-US pair TDR Capital LLP and I Squared Capital.

Beazley shares, meanwhile, were boosted as Lloyd’s of London insurance firm revealed losses that were not as bad as the market had feared.

“We anticipate the favourable rating environment will continue throughout 2021 and we will continue to pursue growth in areas where we can deliver consistent value for brokers and clients while managing our claims and expenses,” said Beazley boss Andrew Horton.

13.53pm: Caspian Sunrise PLC not in paradise, gazes at Kazakh authorities

Caspian Sunrise PLC (LON:CASP) was not rising after its latest operational update, with the shares down a chilly-chilly 22% to 1.55p in afternoon trading.

Commercial, operational and regulatory progress has been limited of late, the Kazakhstan oil producer said, blaming local oil prices and historic costs at its BNG contract area.

“We continue to appeal against the BNG historic costs of $32mln to be paid quarterly over 10 years,” the company said, referring to costs levied entirely against the MJF structure, which it said only represents 1% of the total BNG area.

“We look forward to the case being considered by the Kazakh authorities later this month. In the meantime we prepare to pay the next quarterly payment.”

11.57am: Craven House Capital shares double but it says ‘no developments’

Craven House Capital PLC (LON:CRV) nearly doubled this morning but the investment group seemed nonplussed as to the reason.

Putting out a mid-morning statement, the AIM-listed group said its board had noted the movement in its shares, jumping to US$1.58 from US$0.81 overnight, but “wishes to inform the market that there are no material unpublished developments in its investee companies which it believes require disclosure”.

Last year, the company completed a restricting as the board “determined that the AIM market was no longer suitable for its portfolio at the time” with its investment portfolio rejigged and simplified to comprise minority shareholdings in five Swedish-managed eCommerce businesses, all valued at US$1.6mln at the end of last May and respectively focused on online marketing and distribution of magazines, music and dietary supplements: Garimon Ltd, Rosedog Ltd, OneBas.com Ltd, IZYRadio Ltd and YRRO Ltd.

10.19am: SolGold sinks after calling for more time for Ecuador project

SolGold plc (LON:SOLG) shares tumbled to almost a six-month low after the explorer pushed back the pre-feasibility study for its Alpala project.

The London- and Toronto-listed company said it would not publish the report on the project in the Cascabel concession in northern Ecuador until late 2021 after deciding that additional work was needed.

Extra work will address development and draft mine plan options, which could lower the initial capital requirements and speed up development, the Solgold said, but its shares fell 24% to just over 20p in early trading before easing back to 23.5p by mid-morning.

9am: French Connection back in fashion with two separate suitors

French Connection Group PLC (LON:FCCN) shares strutted 79% higher to 28p in early trading on Friday, up from 10p at the start of the week, after confirming it has received two separate bid approaches.

The fashion retailer, which like many rivals has had a mixed time in the past year, said it has been buttonholed by Sweaty Betty backer Spotlight Brands in conjunction with restructuring and investment firm Gordon Brothers, which bought the Laura Ashley brand from administrators last year.

French Connection, which has been reviewing “all strategic options” since 2018, said the other approach was made by Go Global Retail, a US ‘brand investment platform’ in conjunction with HMJ International.

Both Spotlight and Go Global Retail have until 5pm today to announce firm interest.

Surging even more rapidly higher were shares in Iconic Labs PLC (LON:ICON), which jumped 39% to 0.0062p after the media company appointed Sarah Dees as its chief executive with immediate effect.

The company said Dees has “a wealth of management and fundraising experience” across a variety of sectors including financial technology, banking, live events and natural resources.

Dees’ appointment follows news at the start of the week that directors John Quinlan, Liam Harrington and Sam Asante had resigned in light of outstanding issues with a major shareholder.

Proactive news headlines:

Iconic Labs PLC (LON:ICON), a multidivisional new media and technology business, announced that it has appointed Sarah Dees as its chief executive officer and an executive director with immediate effect.  The group noted that Dees has a wealth of management and fundraising experience across a variety of sectors including financial technology, banking, live events and natural resources. She commented: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead Iconic Labs through the next phase of its development following the recent Board changes.  I will be prioritising early dialogue with OTT Holdings, alongside existing shareholders and lenders.”

Silence Therapeutics PLC (LON:SLN) (NASDAQ:SLN) has said it is set to receive US$45mln from an oversubscribed private placement of stock with US investors that will fund the development of its drug pipeline. In total, 2.02mln American depositary shares were sold for US$22.50 each. “This financing marks an important step in our journey to increase awareness of Silence and position our company as a global RNAi leader,” said Silence chief executive Mark Rothera in a statement.

Chaarat Gold Holdings Ltd (LON:CGH) has launched a US$25mln funding and at the same time a US$22mln loan is set to be converted to shares. To raise US$25mln the company will issue 65.9mln new shares, priced at 26p each, to new institutional investors and family offices as well as existing shareholders. Labro Investments Ltd, Chaarat’s largest shareholder, has indicated its willingness to convert the entirety of a US$22mln loan plus accrued interest into shares, at the same price as the equity raise. It would see Labro receive a further 62.4mln shares, meanwhile, Chaarat’s debt position will reduce by 33% to US$46.5mln.

Tiziana Life Sciences PLC (LON:TILS) (NASDAQ:TLSA) announced that it has appointed Thomas Adams as head of drug development and as an executive director with immediate effect. The biotechnology firm said Adams’ role will be to manage and oversee all matters relating to its pre-clinical and clinical drug development programs and associated intellectual property. Adams holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California, Riverside, and previously served as chief executive and executive chairman of cancer therapy firm Cardiff Oncology (NASDAQ:CRDF).

Sensyne Health PLC (LON:SENS) said it has made two key senior hires. Hina Zaman has been appointed managing director of the healthcare division, while Martin Gouldstone will fill the role of chief business officer of the life sciences division. Zaman joins from Babylon Health and will focus on the commercialisation of Sensyne’s clinical AI software for remote patient monitoring and decision-making support. Gouldstone is moving from Syneos and will be responsible for expanding the company’s pharmaceutical industry partnerships as well as looking at potential growth areas, including M&A opportunities.

Digitalbox PLC (LON:DBOX), the mobile-first digital media business, which owns Entertainment Daily, The Daily Mash and The Tab, has announced that Nigel Burton has resigned as a non-executive director of the company, with immediate effect in order to pursue other opportunities. The company said it would like to thank him for his contribution and to wish him the best for the future.

Proactive Research has issued a report on Custodian REIT PLC (LON:CREI) following its recent quarterly valuation update and dividend announcement for the period ended December 31. Analyst Ed Stacey noted: “The latest two quarters have exhibited strong rent collection and increases in the dividend. We argue that the current level of dividend is secure and offers potential for further increases going forward.”

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