- UK retail sales smash forecasts for December
- US economic data and earnings come in mixed
- Car insurers gain as decline in premiums eases
- Shell issues massive profit warning
techMARK 2,851.01 +0.26%
FTSE 100 6,829.30 +0.20%
FTSE 250 16,187.09 -0.14%
UK markets ended a choppy session with small gains on Friday, pushing the benchmark FTSE 100 to a fresh eight-month high after UK retail sales smashed analysts' expectations and car insurers rose strongly.
However, upside was capped by a profit warning from heavyweight constituent Shell and a weak start on Wall Street after a batch of mixed economic data and corporate earnings.
That kept the Footsie trading within a narrow range during today's session; nevertheless, the index still finished 13.88 points higher at 6,829.30 - its best closing level since May 22nd 2013.
UK retail sales volumes grew at a whopping 2.6% month-on-month pace in December, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), up from a revised 0.1% increase in November and well ahead of the 0.3% growth expected by analysts.
On a year-on-year basis, growth accelerated to 5.3%, up from 1.8% and ahead of the 2.5% forecast. This was the fastest annual growth in sales since October 2004.
However, economic data from further afield failed to impress today, with US building permits, housing starts and consumer confidence data showing a decline on the previous month.
US markets, meanwhile, opened broadly lower this afternoon after blue chips Intel and UPS disappointed investors with gloomy guidance and General Electric underwhelmed with its quarterly results. Morgan Stanley, however, gained strongly after topping estimates with it fourth-quarter profits.
Car insurers rise; Shell issues profit warning
Motor insurance stocks were among the strongest risers in London after data showed that the recent decline in car insurance premiums had begun to decelerate towards the end of last year, sparking hopes that price competition in the sector between rival insurers may be on the wane. Admiral was a standout performer by the close, while esure and Direct Line were also making solid gains.
In contrast, Shell was a heavy faller after saying that fourth-quarter earnings excluding one-offs are expected to be just $2.9bn, down from $4.5bn in the third quarter, $7.3bn in the fourth quarter the year before and well below the $4bn expected by analysts. The company said that Upstream earnings were hit by higher exploration expenses and lower volumes in the fourth quarter, as well as the weakening of the Australian dollar.
RBS was also lower after Investec downgraded the stock from 'hold' to 'sell'. Analyst Ian Gordon recommended investors to "Never own RBS into the numbers!" ahead of its full-year results next month.
Fund manager Aberdeen was extending losses after yesterday reporting a fall in assets under management in its first quarter. Numis kept a 'hold' rating for the stock, saying that the shares
are "mostly up with events".
High Street bookie William Hill underwhelmed with a 6% increase in fourth-quarter revenue in retail and online. The company said it was a "strong end to the year". Ladbrokes also finished lower.
Mining stocks put in a decent performance today, with Glencore Xstrata and Antofagasta among the top gainers as metal prices advanced across the board. Rio Tinto, meanwhile, was benefitting after UBS named it "our most preferred stock" on the back of its volume growth, cost cutting and cash-flow.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Admiral Group (ADM) 1,407.00p +6.11%
Glencore Xstrata (GLEN) 338.15p +3.35%
Hammerson (HMSO) 518.00p +2.57%
Land Securities Group (LAND) 1,030.00p +2.18%
Sainsbury (J) (SBRY) 368.60p +2.08%
Resolution Ltd. (RSL) 359.90p +1.87%
Marks & Spencer Group (MKS) 486.50p +1.78%
Amec (AMEC) 1,045.00p +1.75%
Johnson Matthey (JMAT) 3,393.00p +1.74%
Antofagasta (ANTO) 846.50p +1.68%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
William Hill (WMH) 360.10p -3.38%
Aberdeen Asset Management (ADN) 439.00p -2.66%
Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) 363.70p -2.10%
ITV (ITV) 203.20p -1.88%
Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) 1,453.00p -1.56%
Diageo (DGE) 1,931.50p -1.55%
International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (CDI) (IAG) 427.20p -1.45%
Experian (EXPN) 1,126.00p -1.31%
Sports Direct International (SPD) 712.00p -1.25%
Royal Dutch Shell 'B' (RDSB) 2,279.50p -1.15%
FTSE 250 - Risers
esure Group (ESUR) 284.50p +6.12%
Direct Line Insurance Group (DLG) 266.60p +4.39%
Smith (DS) (SMDS) 345.10p +3.39%
Big Yellow Group (BYG) 512.00p +3.23%
Ferrexpo (FXPO) 181.60p +3.12%
Lonmin (LMI) 316.30p +3.10%
Derwent London (DLN) 2,615.00p +2.67%
African Barrick Gold (ABG) 198.20p +2.53%
Vedanta Resources (VED) 920.00p +2.51%
NMC Health (NMC) 468.10p +2.45%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Ladbrokes (LAD) 167.00p -5.11%
Rotork (ROR) 2,643.00p -4.24%
Ocado Group (OCDO) 505.00p -3.53%
Wetherspoon (J.D.) (JDW) 785.50p -2.96%
Devro (DVO) 307.10p -2.79%
Spectris (SXS) 2,413.00p -2.78%
Xaar (XAR) 1,040.00p -2.53%
Dixons Retail (DXNS) 45.92p -2.53%
Restaurant Group (RTN) 627.50p -2.41%
Pace (PIC) 352.30p -2.30%