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LONDON MARKET OPEN: Stocks rise as poor UK data puts eyes on BoE

15th Feb 2024 08:58

(Alliance News) - Stock prices in London opened higher on Thursday, following a tepid UK economic reading which could put the pressure on the Bank of England to consider cutting interest rates.

The FTSE 100 index traded 22.00 points higher, 0.3%, at 7,590.40 in opening dealings.

The FTSE 250 was up 57.35 points, 0.3%, at 19,061.24, and the AIM All-Share was up 0.93 of a point, 0.1%, at 751.38.

The Cboe UK 100 was up 0.4% at 759.10, the Cboe UK 250 rose 0.2% to 16,485.81, and the Cboe Small Companies was up 0.1% at 14,422.70.

The pound was quoted at USD1.2550 early Thursday, up from USD1.2542 at the London equities close on Wednesday, but off the USD1.2573 it bought in the early hours of the morning.

The UK economy suffered a sharper than expected decline in the final quarter of last year, entering a technical recession, according to numbers from the Office for National Statistics on Thursday.

UK gross domestic product slumped 0.3% in the three months to December from a quarter earlier, underperforming the expected 0.1% fall, according to consensus cited by FXStreet.

The UK economy had declined 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in the third-quarter of 2023.

It means the UK has entered a technical recession, which is generally defined as two successive quarterly falls in gross domestic product.

"The UK economy officially entered into a technical recession in the second half of 2023, a damp squib of a performance that will sound a few alarm bells among politicians and Bank of England officials alike. While this was no big surprise to investors, the 0.3% downturn in activity in the fourth quarter was much larger than anticipated. Moreover, the economy also unexpectedly shrank on an annual basis, as elevated consumer prices and tight monetary conditions squeezed household purchasing power to a greater extent than originally foreseen," Ebury analyst Matthew Ryan commented.

"The pound sold-off against its peers, albeit only very modestly, with sterling remaining one of the better performing major currencies in the world so far this year. Clearly, investors are not convinced that a mild recession will be enough to encourage the Monetary Policy Committee to pull the trigger on lower interest rates just yet, as policymakers are far more focused on bringing down UK inflation than propping up near-term growth - we continue to see the first BoE rate cut no sooner than the bank's June meeting."

Ebury analyst Ryan noted the figures could also grab the attention of those in Westminster.

"The Labour Party continues to hold a very solid advantage over the Tories of around 20 points, and confirmation of a recession will do nothing to help narrow the deficit. What it does mean, perhaps, is that PM Rishi Sunak will be in absolutely no rush to call for an election any time soon, in the hope that economic fortunes improve before Brits take to the polls at some stage towards the end of the year," Ryan added.

Voters in the UK will head to the polls in two by-elections that could give an indication of the scale of the challenges facing the main political parties ahead of a national contest later this year. Prime Minister Sunak is braced for tests in Wellingborough and Kingswood, where Labour hopes to flip Tory majorities in the tens of thousands.

Headlines this week have been dominated by a different by-election – the upcoming Rochdale vote, in which Labour's candidate has had party support withdrawn over remarks he made about Israel and Jewish people.

But Thursday's results will also be significant, with a Tory defeat in either constituency meaning that the government has clocked up more by-election losses in a single parliament than any administration since the 1960s.

Both votes are seen as largely two-horse races between Labour and the Conservatives – though the Tories are also threatened by strengthening support for Reform UK, which is targeting disgruntled voters on the right. The circumstances surrounding the by-elections could also prove difficult for the governing party.

The euro stood at USD1.0734 early Thursday, up from USD1.0720 late Wednesday. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY150.04, down from JPY150.62.

In New York on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.4%, the S&P 500 surged 1.0% and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 1.3%.

In Tokyo on Thursday, the Nikkei 225 added 1.2%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong ended up 0.4%. The S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney closed 0.8% higher. Financial markets in Shanghai remained closed for the Chinese New Year holiday.

In London, Centrica shares rose 4.5%.

Its revenue totalled GBP26.46 billion for 2023, a rise of 11% from GBP23.74 billion. It swung to a pretax profit of GBP6.47 billion, from a loss of GBP383 million.

Excluding exceptional items and some re-measurements, revenue totalled GBP33.37 billion, down 0.8% from GBP33.64 billion. Pretax profit by this measure fell 14% to GBP2.71 billion from GBP3.17 billion.

It provides the re-measurement adjusted figures as these items are judged to "distort the group's underlying business performance".

Chief Executive Chris O'Shea said: "This strong underlying operational performance has continued into early 2024. As you would expect, sharply lower commodity prices and reduced volatility will naturally lower earnings in comparison to 2023 as we return to a more normalised environment. Our performance over the past year has reinforced our confidence in delivering against our medium-term sustainable profit ambitions and continuing to create value for shareholders."

Centrica lifted its final dividend by just over a third to 2.67p per share from 2.00p. Its total dividend amounted to 4.00p, up by a third from 3.00p. It said total cash returns to shareholders for 2023 amounted to GBP800 million.

Edison analyst Andrew Keen commented: "Centrica's 2023 results demonstrate the company's ability to create value through a balanced portfolio, despite facing various challenges."

Elsewhere, Genus plunged 25% as it warned the Chinese porcine market continues to be "challenging".

The firm, which makes biotechnology products for cattle and pig farmers, expects to report adjusted pretax profit for the first-half ended December 31 of GBP29 million, on revenue of GBP334 million.

Both outcomes will be in line with expectations, but would represent a 4.6% on-year decline on the top line and a 31% slump in adjusted pretax profit.

"PIC ex-China performed robustly, with North America, Latin America and Europe delivering adjusted operating profit growth in constant currency. China continues to be a challenging porcine market, however our enhanced commercial focus has resulted in winning new royalty customers in the period which will positively impact fiscal year 2025 and beyond," Genus added.

Close Brothers gave back 14%. It warned on its dividend, sending its stock crashing, as it prepares to count the cost of a UK probe into motor finance.

Close Brothers cautioned on a "potential financial impact" stemming from the UK Financial Conduct Authority's probe of historical motor finance commission arrangements.

The UK financial services watchdog in January explained it is probing whether compensation could be due for people who were potentially overcharged for car loans.

"While there is no certainty regarding any potential financial impact as a result of the FCA's review, the board recognises the need to plan for a range of possible outcomes. It is a long-standing priority of the group to maintain a strong balance sheet and prudent approach to managing its financial resources. To that end, the board considers it prudent for the group to further build capital strength, while supporting our customers and business franchise," Close Brothers said.

The bank explained it will pay no dividend for the current financial year, which runs to July 31, and the reinstatement of payouts for financial 2025 will be reviewed once the FCA has concluded its probe.

On the up, Jet2 climbed 5.7%. The travel company said forward bookings for winter 2023/24 have "performed well".

"The mix of higher margin per passenger package holiday customers is slightly ahead of last winter at approximately 60%, which is particularly pleasing given the resurgence of city breaks in this period," it added.

Jet2 said these positive trends continued with bookings for this month and the next strong. It will "tighten" and lift annual profit guidance as a result.

Pretax profit before currency exchange revaluation for the year to March 31 will land in a GBP510 million to GBP525 million range. Its previous guidance spanned GBP480 million to GBP520 million.

Brent oil was quoted at USD81.23 a barrel early Thursday, down from USD82.63 late Wednesday. Gold was quoted at USD1.995.04 an ounce, up from USD1,988.99.

Still to come on Thursday is the latest US initial jobless claims reading and retail sales at 1330 GMT.

By Eric Cunha; Alliance News news editor

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