- Chinese Q4 growth beats forecasts
- Results from US bellwethers come in mixed
- EVRAZ leads Footsie higher on steel hopes
UK stock markets managed to hold on to gains on Friday as better-than-expected data from China lifted sentiment, though the Footsie did finish below its intraday high after some mixed fourth-quarter earnings from Wall Street heavyweights this afternoon.
China's economic growth seems to have accelerated for the first time in two years towards the end of 2012 thanks in part to the stimulus measures implemented by the government. Chinese gross domestic product grew 7.9% year-on-year in the last three months of 2012, ahead of the 7.8% expected by the consensus.
"Following last night's five-year closing high in the S&P, equity bulls found more support in the form of impressive Chinese GDP and Industrial Production numbers that will go some way to allaying analyst fears of slowing growth," said Matt Basi, a senior sales trader at CMC Markets UK.
"The momentum in equity indices is clearly positive, but with the major European markets perched at their recent highs there has been a drop-off in volume as fear of paying the top starts to come into play," he said.
Nevertheless, traders were shrugging off the news that UK retail sales grew at the second-slowest rate since 1998 last month. Sales volumes were down 0.1% month-on-month, missing the consensus forecasting a 0.2% increase.
Wall Street indices started today's session firmly in the red after some mixed results for economic bellwethers Stateside. Both General Electric and Morgan Stanley jumped after the opening bell after beating consensus expectations in the fourth quarter, while Intel and Capital One Financial disappointed.
Also weighing on US markets was the University of Michigan's consumer confidence index for January which fell from 72.9 to 71.3, missing the estimate of a rise to 75.
FTSE 100: EVRAZ makes strong gains
EVRAZ was making gains even though it said that steel production fell 6.0% from the third quarter to the fourth, as a result of scheduled maintenance at its ZSMK steel mill in the Siberia region.
The stock was being given a lift this morning by comments from Credit Suisse about the steel sector. The broker said: "The cycle is now recovering. Confidence appears to be returning as the recovery in the financial equities suggested to us could be the case. Anecdotes we hear suggest that the demand outlook (non-res in the US, general demand in EU) could be better than the market believes."
Aberdeen Asset Management was given a boost after UBS upped its target price from 370p to 440p, maintaining a 'buy' rating, one day after the company reported a 3.0% rise in assets under management in its first quarter. JP Morgan and Numis also raised their target prices on the stock today.
Energy services giant Wood Group continued to rise one day after announcing that it has won a contract with Nexen Petroleum UK at the Golden Eagle Area Development (GEAD) project in the North Sea.
Meanwhile, home improvement retail company Kingfisher was lower after saying that its Chief Operating Officer, Euan Sutherland, will step down from the board at the end of January. Meanwhile, UBS cut its target price for the shares
from 290p to 280p, keeping a 'neutral' rating, on the back of negative read-across from results elsewhere in the sector this week.
Morrison, the supermarket chain, fell after Deutsche Bank reduced its target price on the stock from 258p to 235p and left its 'hold' recommendation unchanged.
Cruise operator Carnival was extending gains from yesterday after it boosted its share buy-back programme and declared a quarterly dividend of 25 cents per share. Meanwhile, airline IAG was down after both Heathrow and Gatwick airports were forced to cancel or delay numerous flights due to snow across the UK.
FTSE 250: Spectris and Kentz surge after updates
Instrumentation and controls firm Spectris surged after saying that LFL sales growth accelerated from 2.0% to 4.0% from the third to the fourth quarter of 2012, "helping deliver a robust full year performance despite a challenging trading environment".
Meanwhile, engineering and construction group Kentz was also up after announcing a backlog of $2.75bn at the end of December, up 7.0% year-on-year.
Oil and gas group Ophir was on the rise after receiving a double upgrade from Nomura, from 'reduce' to 'buy'. The broker said that highly-geared E&A drilling in 2013 could be a "company maker". Analysts added that in a 'blue-sky' success scenario, 2013 drilling could be worth 500% of the current share price.
In contrast, fund manager Ashmore was being weighed down by a ratings cut by UBS from 'buy' to 'neutral'. "We downgrade Ashmore [...] on valuation grounds and because we believe that competitive pressures will persist," the broker said.