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LONDON MARKET OPEN: Phoenix Group leads FTSE 100 higher

22nd Mar 2024 08:53

(Alliance News) - Stock prices in London opened higher on Friday, after a busy week of interest rate decisions across the globe.

Amongst individual stocks, Phoenix Group got a boost on the back of its 2023 results.

The FTSE 100 index opened up 39.32 points, 0.5%, at 7,921.87. The FTSE 250 was up 1.50 points at 19,742.81, and the AIM All-Share was up 1.83 points, 0.3%, at 742.47.

The Cboe UK 100 was up 0.5% at 792.34, the Cboe UK 250 was flat at 17,156.19, and the Cboe Small Companies was down 0.1% at 14,633.54.

In European equities on Friday, the CAC 40 was down 0.3%, whilst the DAX 40 in Frankfurt was down marginally.

The week has been dominated by interest rate decisions.

To start the week off, the Bank of Japan on Tuesday ended its negative interest rate policy.

On Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve left interest rates unmoved, as expected, while its latest set of projections still suggest three cuts will come this year. The central bank's federal funds rate range was unchanged at 5.25%-5.50%.

After the Fed decision, on Thursday, the Swiss National Bank surprised with a 25 basis point cut to its policy rate.

The Bank of England left bank rate at 5.25% in the afternoon, but the vote split gave equities the confidence to push higher.

There was a marked shift in the voting pattern with eight members of the MPC voting to leave interest rates unchanged, with hawks Jonathan Haskel and Catherine Mann no longer recommending rates be increased.

On Friday, eyes shifted to UK retail sales data.

According to the Office for National Statistics, UK retail sales were flat on-month in February, following a 3.6% boost in January. January's figure was upwardly revised from 3.4%.

February's retail sales figure was predicted to show a fall of 0.3%, according to FXStreet, so the actual figure beat market consensus.

Year-on-year, UK retail sales fell by 0.4% in February, following a 0.5% increase in January. FXStreet were expecting retail sales to fall by 0.7% annually.

Kris Hamer at the British Retail Consortium, said:  “February sales were hit by the wettest February on record, which dampened demand and depressed footfall. This was felt most in the more high-ticket categories such as furniture and electricals. Meanwhile, cosmetics and toiletries continued to sell well as popular brands go from strength to strength. Retailers are hopeful that with warmer weather and potential interest rate cuts around the corner, consumer confidence will soon spring back.”

On the back of the data, retailers took a hit. JD Sports lost 3.8%, Frasers fell 1.3%, and Next shed 0.2%.

Elsewhere in the FTSE 100, Phoenix Group jumped 7.5% to the top of the index.

The life insurance provider unveiled "ambitious" new targets as it reported annual results which met, and in some areas, surpassed City expectations.

In 2023, Phoenix reported total cash generation of GBP2.02 billion, up 35% from GBP1.50 billion the year prior.

This was above the company's upgraded target of GBP1.8 billion, which was also the market consensus.

Phoenix announced an ambition to grow operating cash generation by around 25% to GBP1.4 billion in 2026 from GBP1.1 billion in 2023, after which it is expected to grow at a mid-single digit rate over the long term.

In the FTSE 250, Darktrace fell 11%.

KKR Dark Aggregator has sold a GBP82.5 stake in the cybersecurity company, after announcing plans to fully exit its investment in Darktrace on Thursday.

The US investment firm, which first invested in Darktrace in 2016, has sold 19.4 million shares at 425p each.

Aston Martin rose 1.2%, after naming its new chief executive.

Aston Martin name Adrian Hallmark as its new CEO. He will join no later than October 1, succeeding Amedeo Felisa.

Hallmark joins from Bentley, where he as been chair & CEO since 2018.

Aston Martin Executive Chair Lawrence Stroll said: "In Adrian Hallmark, we are attracting one of the highest calibre leaders not just in our segment, but in the entire global automotive industry. Complementing our world-class leadership, Adrian will bring to Aston Martin unrivalled experience in both the ultra-luxury and British manufacturing sectors to progress our strategy and continue recent momentum."

Amongst small-caps, James Fisher rose 8.8%.

James Fisher said it has agreed to sell RMSpumptools for GBP90 million to ChampionX UK.

The company said the sale is in line with its strategy to simplify and focus its portfolio through the sale of non-core assets.

CEO Jean Vernet commented: "The sale of RMS marks a significant step in simplifying our portfolio to further strengthen our financial position and create a platform for sustained recovery. We believe the transaction represents good value for our shareholders, reflecting RMS's strong performance in recent years."

The pound was quoted at USD1.2589 early on Friday in London, lower compared to USD1.2665 at the equities close on Thursday. The euro stood at USD1.0812, down against USD1.0859. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY151.48, lower compared to JPY151.69.

In Asia on Friday, the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo closed up 0.2%. In China, the Shanghai Composite closed down 1.0%, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong was down 2.2% in late dealings. The S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney closed down 0.2%.

In the US on Thursday, Wall Street ended higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.7%, the S&P 500 up 0.3% and the Nasdaq Composite up 0.2%.

Brent oil was quoted at USD85.41 a barrel early in London on Friday, down from USD85.50 late Thursday.

Gold was quoted at USD2,167.29 an ounce, down against USD2,178.10.

Still to come on Friday's economic calendar, there is a retail sales reading from Canada at 1230 GMT.

By Sophie Rose, Alliance News senior reporter

Comments and questions to [email protected]

Copyright 2024 Alliance News Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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