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Vodafone jumps on divi relief as pound wipes out FTSE gains

Mobile phone operator freezes but does not cut dividend, while FTSE 100 gains are wiped out by pound's surge.

Vodafone jumps on divi relief as pound wipes out FTSE gains

Update: Vodafone (VOD) has jumped to the top of the FTSE 100 amid relief among investors that the mobile phone operator did not cut its dividend.

Shares in Vodafone jumped 7.8% to 155.6p, ending the day at the top of the FTSE 100.

But gains on the UK blue-chip index were wiped out after the pound soared on reports the cabinet was set to sign off on a Brexit deal.

The pound surged 1.4% against the dollar to trade at $1.303. A stronger pound tends to weigh on the FTSE 100 as its stocks rely on overseas markets for around three-quarters of their earnings.

The UK blue-chip index closed flat at 7,054, having crossed the 7,100 mark earlier in the session, as signs of a breakthrough in the trade tensions between the US and China lifted broader market sentiment that had been dented by a technology sell-off overnight.

Cost cutting at Vodafone helped the mobile group wring out a 2.9% jump in earnings despite organic revenue growth falling to just 0.5%.

New chief executive Nick Read, who replaced Vittorio Colao last month, said he wanted to further drive down costs and generate more returns from infrastructure assets, freezing the dividend until debt began to fall.

That move on the dividend did at least allay fears the payout would be cut, 'clearly good news for those holding Vodafone for its 8%-plus yield' according to George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

'Moves to make Vodafone simpler have also been given the thumbs up,' he added, pointing to the creation of a separate division to runs its phone towers.

'Not only should the plans open the door to cost savings, a sale of the towers business could see a couple of billion flow into the coffers. With debts well over €30 billion (£26 billion) at the moment, anything that lightens the burden is welcome.'

Vodafone was joined at the top of the FTSE 100 by Experian (EXPN), up 4.5% at £18.73 as the credit data company said full-year earnings would beat previous forecasts.

Melrose (MRON) was up 7.4% at 177.1p as the GKN owner said trading was in line with 2018 expectations.

Energy stocks fell to the bottom of the FTSE 100 as the price of Brent crude fell back below the $70 mark, down 3.7% at $67.54 a barrel, as US president Donald Trump urged Opec, the cartel of oil-producing nations, not to curtail supply.

John Wood Group (WG) fell 2.6% to 650.2p, BP (BP) was down 2.8% at 513.2p and Shell (RDSb) fell 2.1% to £24.29.

Markets received a boost from a report in the South China Morning Post claiming China's top trade negotiator Liu He may visit Washington ahead of talks between US president Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this month.

That drove a rebound from overnight losses on global markets, after cuts to forecasts from a number of Apple (APPL.O) suppliers sparked a fresh technology sell-off. The tech-heavy US Nasdaq index dropped 2.8% last night.

'Mid-cap' stocks meanwhile rebounded from yesterday's sell-off, with the FTSE 250 up 0.9%.

BTG (BTG) surged 10.7% to 660p as the medical devices developer announced better-than-expected results.

FirstGroup (FGP) rose 10.4% to 88p as the transport operator reported solid results and appointed finance director Matthew Gregory as its new boss.

B&M (BMEB) fell to the bottom of the index as the discount retailer reported a dip in quarterly sales, down 7.6% at 374.4p.

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