- Stocks trading within narrow range ahead of Fed
- Fed decision due at 19:00 London time
- BoE votes unanimously on policy, warns of sterling strength
- UK unemployment falls to four-and-a-half-year low
techMARK 2,697.26 +0.47%
FTSE 100 6,492.08 +0.09%
FTSE 250 15,366.70 +0.12%
Markets finished broadly flat on Wednesday after erasing earlier gains, as improving economic data from Europe was outweighed by uncertainty surrounding the Federal Reserve's policy decision due out later this evening.
The FTSE 100 closed just 5.89 points higher at 6,492.08, having traded within narrow range of just 30 points or so for most of the session.
"The main focus though remains very much on whether the Fed will be bold enough to start the long awaited tapering programme later this evening as Ben Bernanke chairs his very last press conference as Fed Chairman," said Michael Hewson, Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets.
The Fed decision is due out at 14:00 in Washington (19:00 London time) as policymakers wrap up their two-day policy meeting amid rising speculation that they could announce a scaling back of the monthly $85bn bond buying programme.
The recent raft of upbeat data pointing to a recovery in the world's biggest economy has fuelled speculation that the Fed will begin tapering this month. Expectations, however, remain finely balanced with some saying that below-par inflation will prevent the Fed from making a move this month.
BoE warns of sterling strength, UK unemployment falls
Minutes from this month's Bank of England meeting were released this morning, revealing the policymakers voted unanimously to keep its Bank Rate at 0.5% and its asset purchase programme at £375bn.
However, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) did warn that further strength in the sterling - currently trading close to a five-year high against other currencies - could hamper economic growth in the UK. "Any further substantial appreciation of sterling would pose additional risks to the balance of demand growth and to the recovery," the MPC said at its meeting on December 4-5th.
Markets were also digesting labour-market figures this morning, which showed that the UK unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 7.4% in the three months to October, its lowest since the three months to April 2009. The jobless rate continues to inch towards the MPC's target of 7%, at which point it would begin to reassess current monetary policy.
Meanwhile, the Germany IFO business climate index rose from 109.3 to 109.5 in December, in line with expectations. While the current assessment sub-index declined month-on-month, the expectations survey rose by more than expected.
M&S hit by UBS downgrade
High Street retailer Marks & Spencer was a heavy faller after analysts at UBS cut their rating on the stock from 'buy' to 'neutral' and lowered their target price from 550p to 475p. In a review of the sector, the bank raised concerns about margins given that promotional levels across the industry are up on last year, as it downgraded ASOS and cut its target for Debenhams.
Sainsbury was off shopping lists again today, along with fellow supermarket groups Tesco and Morrison, after a report from Kantar yesterday showed rising competition from discount grocery stores over the past 12 weeks. Deutsche Bank cut its target price for Sainsbury slightly this morning, keeping a 'hold' recommendation.
Online gambling group bwin.party surged after saying that the outlook for 2014 remains positive, with new product launches, continued mobile expansion, prospects for further growth in the US and increased betting volumes.
Africa-focused oil and gas group Ophir Energy pleased investors with a farm-out of its blocks in Gabon, while India-focused Essar Energy rose after an update which reported healthy current trading.
Oilfield services firms Petrofac, Wood Group and Hunting were trading lower after a profit warning from French peer Technip.
Oil major BP finished flat despite making its first significant oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico since 2009, in the Gila deepwater prospect 300 miles off New Orleans. The firm also today completed the upgrade of the Whiting facility in Northwest Indiana, designed to create $1bn per annum of additional future operating cash flow.
RSA Insurance declined after the company revealed today that Ameriprise Financial took its stake in RSA below the 5% threshold last Friday.
United Utilities Group was in the red after going ex-dividend, meaning that from today investors won't be able to get their hands on its latest payout. Grainger, Marston's, Berkeley Group, Greene King and Halfords also went ex-div today.
FTSE 100 - Risers
ARM Holdings (ARM) 1,027.00p +3.42%
Antofagasta (ANTO) 795.50p +2.05%
Vedanta Resources (VED) 802.00p +2.04%
Reckitt Benckiser Group (RB.) 4,651.00p +2.02%
Rexam (REX) 497.30p +1.88%
Centrica (CNA) 328.70p +1.73%
Coca-Cola HBC AG (CDI) (CCH) 1,658.00p +1.59%
Wolseley (WOS) 3,265.00p +1.52%
Associated British Foods (ABF) 2,329.00p +1.26%
William Hill (WMH) 375.60p +1.24%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Sainsbury (J) (SBRY) 365.10p -3.57%
United Utilities Group (UU.) 650.50p -2.62%
Marks & Spencer Group (MKS) 441.50p -2.39%
RSA Insurance Group (RSA) 90.55p -2.00%
Petrofac Ltd. (PFC) 1,089.00p -1.89%
Aggreko (AGK) 1,611.00p -1.71%
Tesco (TSCO) 319.05p -1.68%
Burberry Group (BRBY) 1,429.00p -1.58%
Morrison (Wm) Supermarkets (MRW) 253.20p -1.36%
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) 1,548.50p -1.12%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Bwin.party Digital Entertainment (BPTY) 125.40p +8.38%
Ophir Energy (OPHR) 320.70p +4.80%
Alent (ALNT) 348.90p +4.52%
Ocado Group (OCDO) 441.60p +4.00%
Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) 52.60p +3.54%
RPC Group (RPC) 577.00p +3.22%
Keller Group (KLR) 1,104.00p +3.18%
Supergroup (SGP) 1,362.00p +2.79%
UDG Healthcare Public Limited Company (UDG) 321.80p +2.48%
International Personal Finance (IPF) 599.00p +2.48%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Perform Group (PER) 230.00p -5.89%
Imagination Technologies Group (IMG) 165.20p -5.49%
Wood Group (John) (WG.) 668.50p -4.84%
Debenhams (DEB) 78.45p -4.33%
Kazakhmys (KAZ) 194.90p -2.79%
Hochschild Mining (HOC) 126.50p -2.77%
Hunting (HTG) 731.00p -2.73%
Berkeley Group Holdings (The) (BKG) 2,448.00p -2.59%
Marston's (MARS) 143.70p -2.24%
AL Noor Hospitals Group (ANH) 880.00p -2.11%