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FTSE 100 closes higher; Next keeps festive cheer rolling

On a separate note, Mifid II comes into force today with the aim of increasing transparency and making everyone in the investment chain more accountable for their decisions
Department store
Next was the top riser on Footsie on Wednesday
  • FTSE 100 closes up 23pts

  • Carillion under investigation by FCA

  • Next's Christmas sales sparkle

  • Mifid II comes into force today

FTSE 100 closed the day around 23 points higher after a fairly uneventful Wednesday.

The UK blue-chip benchmark finished 0.30% to the good at 7,671, while the FTSE 25  was also up - at 20,743 - up around 62 points.

Top riser was retail darling Next (LON:NEXT), which soared 6.78% to 4,805p after it pleased investors with a hike in its full-year profit target after a better online sales performance before Christmas.

The profit guidance has been lifted by £8mln to £725mln and will be determined by the January performance.

The company has a tough time in 2017 as it warned on profits in January, but now traders look to be more confident in its prospects.

The top loser on Footsie was copper giant Antofagasta (LON:ANTO), down 2.58% to 975.20p, as it joined other miners heading south.

In the currency markets, the pound lost 0.28% against the Euro and was off 0.57% against the US dollar, having made gains on Tuesday.

3pm: FTSE shows signs of life

The FTSE 100 has finally started to show some signs of life after moping around yesterday’s close for most of the session so far.

As expected the markets over in New York have started the day where they left off on Tuesday, with all three of the major indices opening higher at the bell.

Their UK counterparts have followed suit, kicking into action shortly before trading got underway across the pond.

Weak pound helps footsie

The FTSE 100 is now up 0.3%, or 26.0 points, to 7,674.1.

Another reason for the recent bump could be the weaker pound, which has given up some of yesterday’s gains against the dollar.

Sterling is currently down 0.3% versus the greenback to US$1.355, perhaps a sign that US traders are expecting some bullish comments from the Fed when the minutes of its latest meeting are released later on.

Retailers in demand

On the corporate front, Next Plc (LON:NXT) has been the undisputed champion today, rising 6.7% to £48.02 on the back of solid Christmas sales figures and a subsequent upgrade of its full-year profit forecast.

John Lewis – although unlisted – also added to the bullish sentiment in the retail sector with some sizzling numbers in the week before Christmas.

Getting a tow off of those was Associated British Foods plc (LON:ABF), which zipped 2% higher to £28.34 as traders took a punt that its Primark business might also have enjoyed a stellar holiday season.

Easyjet PLC (LON:EZJ) was one of Tuesday’s top gainers after Bank Of America Merrill Lynch struck a more note with its latest piece of research on the company and the effect hasn’t worn off yet. The effect hasn’t worn off yet it seems, with the stock flying 2.2% higher to £15.34.

Utlities and insurers out of favour

Utilities were out of favour after enjoying a day in the sun yesterday. The UK’s largest listed water company United Utilities Group PLC (LON:UU.) dipped 1.7% to 803.2p, while electricity and gas provider National Grid PLC (LON:NG.) shed 1.1% to 852.2p.

Insurers also racked up some minor losses today – Admiral Group PLC (LON:ADM) dropped 1.5% to £19.20 and RSA Insurance Group PLC (LON:RSA) fell 1.3% to 611.2p.


2.45pm: More records fall on Wall Street

It’s been another record-breaking start over on Wall Street, with both the S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq indices hitting fresh highs just after the opening bell in New York.

Nasdaq  crossed 7,000 for the first time yesterday and it has built on those gains this morning, rising 0.5% to 7,039.2 partly thanks to an increase for tech giant Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL).

The benchmark S&P 500 has added 0.2% to 2,701.3, while the Dow Jones has also gained 0.2% to 24,876.2.


2.15pm: John Lewis sees sales soar in run up to Christmas

First it was Next Plc (LON:NXT), now it’s the turn of John Lewis to announce some pretty decent Christmas sales figures.

The John Lewis Partnership – which is made up of the department stores and Waitrose supermarkets – saw sales grow 4% in the week to 23 December compared to the same period a year earlier.

When Waitrose is stripped out, John Lewis’ sales over the week were a whopping 8.9% higher year-on-year.

Fashion sales jumped 8.8%, homeware sales increased 7% but the biggest growth came in the electricals and home technology division were up 11.3%.


1.25pm: Time to twiddle the thumbs...

There’s still not much happening among the blue chips – as is to be expected on the second day back from the festive break.

The FTSE 100 has flirted around the breakeven line all day long and is currently 2.6 points, or 0.03%, down to 7,645.7.

Next Plc (LON:NXT) is trying its best to stir some life into the index although evidently without much luck.

The UK retailer is up 6.6% to £47.95 after it upped its full-year profit guidance on the back of a solid performance over the key Christmas period.

Its strong showing gives hope to others in the sector, with Primark owner Associated British Foods plc (LON:ABF) getting a tow to hit £28.34 – a 2% gain for the day.

Insurers were out of favour again, with Admiral Group PLC (LON:ADM) shedding 1.4% to £19.22 and RSA Insurance Group PLC (LON:RSA) down by a similar percentage to 610.6p.

Private hospital group Mediclinic International Plc (LON:MDC) is still the day’s biggest loser, down 2.3% to 634.4p.


12.50pm: US stocks to open on the front foot

After hitting record highs on Tuesday, it’s set to be another positive, if not quite so lively, start for US stocks today.

The Dow Jones is expected to open 20 points in the black at 24,850, the tech-heavy Nasdaq is seen 3.9 points higher, and the benchmark S&P 500 is set to kick off with a 1 point gain to 2,696.9.

All eyes will be on the release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting though.

They’re due at 7pm UK time and should provide some clues as to how many US interest rate hikes we can expect in 2018.

Analysts and economists currently expecting as many as four rises in 2018, with the first possibly coming in March.

“It will be interesting to see how worried some policy makers are becoming about the lack of inflation and what impact investors see this having on the rate path,” said OANDA senior market analyst Craig Erlam.

As for other data due today, December’s ISM manufacturing PMI is forecast to dip slightly to 58.1 from 58.2 a month earlier.


12.10pm: Mifid II to blame for slow trading?

The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II – A.K.A Mifid II – has finally come into force today.

Mifid II is a major set of new rules governing European Union financial markets and means firms delaing in shares, bonds, commodities and derivatives must now report detailed information on billions of pounds worth of transactions.

The aim is to increase transparency and make everyone in the investment chain accountable for what they do in a bid to avoid a repeat of the problems seen during the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Danske Bank reckons the new rules could be one of the reasons for the subdued trading we’ve seen so far today as traders and asset managers adapt to the change in regulations in real time. 


11.50am: Spotify hit with US$1.6bn lawsuit

Music streaming service Spotify has been hit with a US$1.6bn lawsuit from a music publishing company which claims it is hosting songs it doesn’t have the full rights to.

California-based Wixen – which collects royalties on behalf of the likes of Tom Petty and The Doors – alleges that Spotify “took a shortcut” when it cut deals with major labels to host their back catalogues.

The suit states that under US copyright laws, every song has two copyright claims: one to the recording and the other to the composition.

Wixen claims that Spotify didn’t obtain the composition rights in their deals and is seeking damages of US$150,000 a song for more than 10,000 songs.


11.25am: Next’s festive update bodes well for retail sector

“Next’s results are a belated, but very welcome, Christmas present for investors across the retail sector,” said Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst George Salmon.

“Colder weather may have boosted sales in the run-up to Christmas, but the real positive is the more optimistic outlook from Next’s CEO Simon Wolfson.

“The long-serving CEO has an excellent reputation in the industry, so for him to say that one or two of the headwinds facing the UK’s retailers should ease in the year ahead represents a significant fillip to the sector.”

Salmon added: “He’s putting his money where his mouth is too. The decision to use the expected £300m of surplus cash generated next year to fund share buybacks rather than special dividends implies management believe the shares represent good value at the moment.

“With the Wolfson name prominent on the shareholder register, the CEO has got more than a passing interest in getting these decisions right.”


11.10am: Growth in construction sector slows in December

UK building firms saw growth slow in December as weaker growth in housebuilding combined with a fall in commercial building and stagnating infrastructure work.

The IHS Markit/ CIPS UK Construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to 52.2 for last month, down from 53.1 in November.

A reading above 50 still indicates that the sector is expanding, but economists had expected the reading to hold relatively steady.

“Despite showing modest expansion in December, the PMI indicates that the construction sector found life very challenging in the fourth quarter of 2017 after output contracted in both the third and second quarters,” wrote Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.

“The struggles of the construction sector in recent months has been influenced by heightened economic, political and Brexit uncertainties fuelling companies’ caution over committing to new projects. Relatively weak economic activity has also weighed down on construction activity.”


11am: Carillion falls as FCA probes statements

Carillion PLC’s (LON:CLLN) fall from grace continued after the troubled construction contractor  confirmed it was under investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority.

The financial watchdog is looking at the “timeliness” of announcements made by Carillion between 7 December 2016 and 10 July 2017 – the date on which it issued its first profit warning.

During the period under review, the former FTSE 250 constituent saw its share price tumble by a whopping 70%.

It’s yet another headache for new chief executive Andrew Davies, who starts in his new role on 22 January.

At the beginning of 2017, Carillion shares were changing hands for around 240p. Today they’ve fallen by another 3.5% to leave them at just 17.3p.


10.35am: What are we expecting from the Fed minutes?

Later on this evening – around 7pm UK time – the US Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its latest meeting.

The markets will be looking for any indications as to how many interest rate rises are on the cards for the rest of this year.

Analysts are currently expecting as many as four hikes in 2018, with the first possibly coming as early as March.

The overwhelming majority of analysts and economists don’t expect a rate rise this month, with the probability of a hike at less than 1%.

In March, however, there’s an estimated 75% chance of a 25 basis point hike. That meeting in March will be the first for new Fed chairman Jerome Powell after he takes over from Janet Yellen on 5 February.


10.20am: Retailers in demand after Next's update

The markets here in London so far haven’t fed off the performance of US stocks, which reached new highs once again on Tuesday evening.

Perhaps as you’d expect on only the second trading day after the holiday season, the FTSE 100 has been very quiet – it’s currently dead flat at 7,648.2.

That could be because traders are waiting to see what happens across the pond this evening when the Federal Reserve releases the minutes of its latest meeting, which should give an indication on rate hike prospects for the rest of this year.

Next Plc (LON:NXT) sits atop of the leaderboard, jumping 7.6% to £48.43, after it gave investors a belated but much-needed Christmas present.

Total full price sales between 1 November and 24 December rose 1.5%, far better than the 0.3% decline it had guided towards before.

On the back of the strong showing, the company upped its pre-tax profit guidance for the year to January 2018 from £717mln to £725mln.

Associated British Foods plc (LON:ABF) was getting a little tow from Next’s decent update, with shares rising 2.4% to £28.45 as traders speculated its discount fashion store Primark could follow suit with similarly bullish Christmas sales figures.

After a minor blip on Tuesday, credit score provider Experian PLC (LON:EXPN) zipped 2.3% higher today to £16.36 as Credit Suisse upgraded the stock to ‘outperform’ from ‘neutral’.

The Swiss bank said it expects organic growth to accelerate from 4% in the first half of FY18 to 6.3% in FY19 as consumer headwinds begin to fade.

Keeping the footsie from heading into positive territory was private healthcare group Mediclinic International Plc (LON:MDC), which topped the fallers – down 2.1% on the day to 635.6p.

A couple of blue chip miners were also weighing as precious metal prices eased lower.

Mexico-based silver and gold producer Fresnillo PLC (LON:FRES) dropped 0.8% to £14.23, while fellow precious metals miner Randgold Resources Limited (LON:RRS) fell 1.2% to £73.56.


8.40am: Subdued start for the blue chips

The FTSE 100 just about crept into positive territory with a two point gain to 7,650.90 with most of the early action taking placing in the retail sector after a better than expected update from Next (LON:NXT).

Shares in the clothing chain were up almost 9% after it told the City it had enjoyed a solid festive season that didn’t require major discounts to get the punters through the doors.

“Christmas trading is clearly better than many may have feared, helped by cold weather and no doubt Next taking part in Black Friday for the first time,” said City broker Liberum.

Marks & Spencer (LON:MKS) and Associated British Foods (LON:ABF), owner of the Primark discount fashion group, were dragged higher in Next’s wake. Their shares were up 2.5% and 1.9% respectively.

Away from the shopping channel, Bunzl (LON:BNZL) was up 1.3% after a Credit Suisse upgrade, while Serco was knocked 4.6% lower by a downgrade from the Swiss house.

Finally, could it get any worse for Carillion (LON:CLLN), the fallen civil engineering giant? Apparently it could. With shares down more than 90% in the last year after a series of mis-steps and muck-ups, it is now the focus of a probe by City regulators. The shares fell a further 3.6%.


Proactive news headlines:

Corero Network Security PLC (LON:CNS) has landed two deals worth US$400,000 in total for an Intel extension of software that prevents distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS). The two unnamed North American customers for its SmartWall Threat Defense System 100Gbps product are described respectively as a hosting provider and a service provider.

Marble quarries operator Fox Marble Holdings PLC (LON:FOX) has signed a sales and purchase agreement covering the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations. The three-year agreement with Shailesh Patil is subject to a minimum commitment of 3,000 tonnes of marble a year and confers upon Mr Patil the exclusive rights to sell Fox Marble's product in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Belvoir Lettings PLC (LON:BLV), the UK’s largest property franchise, has told investors it exceeded its target for portfolio acquisitions by its franchisees last year. During 2017 franchisees completed 23 acquisitions, increasing annualised network revenues by over £3.3Mln – 10% ahead of the £3Mln target set by the board.

Bezant Resources plc (LON:BZT) has confirmed that the final option payment has been made for two licences in Colombia. The company’s wholly owned subsidiary, Ulloa Recursos Naturales, held the option for the areas that are prospective for alluvial gold and platinum.

Avacta Group Plc (LON:AVCT), the developer of Affimer® biotherapeutics and reagents, has announced that its chief executive officer, Dr Alastair Smith, will be presenting at the annual Biotech Showcase, 8-10 January 2018, San Francisco.  Dr Smith will outline the key benefits of the Affimer® technology as a therapeutic protein platform and update the meeting on progress within the Group's therapeutic programmes.

Green Dragon Gas Ltd. (LON:GDG), one of the largest independent companies involved in the production and sale of coal bed methane gas in China, confirmed that its name change to G3 Exploration Limited was effective today and under the new ticker G3E on the London Stock Exchange.


6.45am: Little change expected

Stocks were expected to open little changed ahead of the release of the minutes from the meeting of the Fed's policy makers.

The FTSE 100, which shed 40 points yesterday to close at 7,648, was expected to open a couple of points lower, according to spread betting quotes.

US markets had a strong session on Tuesday, with the Dow racking up a triple-digit gain to close at 24,824 and the S&P 500 surging 22 points to 2,695.

US investors might be a bit more hesitant today as they await the release of the minutes from the December meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Federal Reserve’s policy-making committee.

US interest rates were hiked by a quarter of a point but this was largely expected, and further rises are inevitable, but the question remains whether the minutes offered any clue as to the FOMC’s preferred timetable.

Heading towards the close of play in Asia this morning, markets were in good heart; the Shanghai Composite was up 28 at 3,373 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong was 38 points to the good at 30,553, hitting a 10-year high in the process.

Back in the Square Mile, another largely somnolent day is expected with the major source of excitement likely to be the first of several Christmas trading updates from the big retailers, with fashion firm Next Plc (LON:NXT) opening the batting.

The broker, Jefferies, is predicting Next will announce a 0.2% year-on-year decline in total full-price brand sales, which at least represents an improvement on the preceding quarters in 2017.

"We forecast Directory online sales growth of 10%, as we expect Next to benefit from improved product ranges, a better online offer (e.g. universal shopping cart and improved search engine) and more delivery options (e.g. Next unlimited and  delivery slots). This is a slight slowdown from the 13% in 3Q but is against a tougher comp of 5% (versus 0% in 3Q). Note this also includes Label and international online sales, which we forecast to grow 40% and 24% respectively in FY18E.

Jefferies has pencilled in Next Retail's sales will be down 8% year-on-year, or 10% on a like-for-like (LFL) basis.

It expects Next to confirm fiscal 2018 guidance of profit before tax ranging from £692mln and £742mln.

Significant announcements expected

Trading update: Next Plc (LON:NXT)

AGM: Applied Graphene Materials PLC (LON:AGM)

Economic data: UK construction PMI; US construction spending; US FOMC Meeting minutes

Around the markets

  • Sterling: US$1.3612, up 0.23 cents
  • 10-year gilt: yielding 1.288%
  • Gold: US$1,314.50 an ounce, down US$1.60
  • Brent crude: US$63.08 a barrel, up 64 cents
  • Bitcoin: £11,239, up £376

Business headlines

The Daily Telegraph

Electric car charger firm Chargemaster moves close to flotation: Electric car charging point manufacturer Chargemaster has moved a step closer to a long-expected flotation on the London market.

Diageo’s Captain Morgan Snapchat ad banned over fears it appeals to children: A Snapchat advert by Diageo for its Captain Morgan’s rum brand has been banned by the authorities over fears it could encourage children to drink.

Spotify facing US$1.6 billion copyright lawsuit: Music streaming company Spotify is being sued by Wixen Music Publishing for allegedly using thousands of songs, including those of Tom Petty, Neil Young and the Doors, without a licence and compensation to the music publisher.

WANdisco marks turnaround year with biggest deal to date: WANdisco, the Sheffield-based software company, has secured its biggest deal to date, capping a turnaround year in which its share price has trebled.

The Times

Cut-price nuclear power plant possible, says EDF: EDF believes that it can build a second nuclear power station to follow Hinkley Point C for up to £5 billion less than the Somerset plant. The French energy giant has said it will cost it at least £19.6 billion to build Hinkley Point, Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation, and as much as £20.3 billion if delays push it becoming operational back from 2025 to 2027.

Tesco boss ‘exposed fraud he is accused of’: Tesco’s former UK food boss did not commit fraud but in fact helped to uncover accounting irregularities after ordering a junior employee to investigate problems in its commercial finance department, his lawyer told a court yesterday.

Ex-Bovis boss finds another new home at Amey Group: The chairman of Bovis Homes, who admitted last year that the group had cut corners to reach City targets, is to become chairman of Amey Group, the infrastructure business.

China enjoys surprise boost in demand: Growth in China’s manufacturing sector hit a four-month high last month as factories boosted production to meet a surprise increase in orders.

A-Plan adds students to mix with Endsleigh deal: Endsleigh, the student insurance specialist that has provided cover for stolen stereos, crumpled car bumpers and shattered smartphones for generations of undergraduates, has been sold to the broker A-Plan by Zurich for an undisclosed sum.

The Guardian

London house prices: south and west see some of biggest drops: House prices in “prime” central London appear to be stabilising, while areas in the south and west of the capital such as Wandsworth and Richmond are now under increasing pressure, according to estate agent Savills.

Ryanair applies for UK licence as airline braces for hard Brexit: Ryanair has applied for a British air operating licence to ensure its domestic UK routes can keep flying after Brexit. The Irish airline has repeatedly warned that flights could be grounded after March 2019 unless a new framework for aviation is agreed between Britain and the EU.

Trump tax cut to dent BP profits by US$1.5 billion, company warns: The British oil company becomes the latest global firm to report a hit to its earnings from the US corporate tax rate cut, which came into effect at the start of the year after being signed into law in December. Barclays, Shell and Goldman Sachs have made similar statements in recent weeks.

Daily​ Mail

BA takes off after snaring Austrian budget airline Niki from collapsed Air Berlin: British Airways owner IAG flew up the blue-chip index after snapping up Austrian airline Niki from collapsed carrier Air Berlin. The deal, worth £32.5 million, will see IAG buy the chain through a subsidiary of its budget Spanish airline Vueling.

Welsh Gold mine that made Diana’s ring reopens after nearly 20 years: The Welsh gold mine that produced Princess Diana’s wedding ring is set to reopen after nearly 20 years. The Clogau St David’s mine in North Wales produced three generations of Royals’ rings but closed in 1998 as the gold ran out.

M&S sells all its 27 Hong Kong stores as it focuses on its UK business: Marks & Spencer is selling all its 27 stores in Hong Kong and Macau, as it focuses on turning around the fortunes of its UK business. The retailer has taken off in Hong Kong since launching there in 1988, with demand so high that flights filled with its chilled food jet in daily.

Mark Johnstone to take the pilot’s seat at BBA Aviation: Mark Johnstone is set to take the pilot’s seat at BBA Aviation when he becomes group chief executive from April. He is President of the FTSE 250 firm and Operating chief of its engine repair arm, having worked there since 2008. Johnstone replaces Wayne Edmunds, who will stay as a non-Executive Director.

Amazon designs delivery drone that self-destructs in adverse weather: Amazon has revealed plans for delivery drones which explode in mid-air. The internet giant’s machines will break apart if they hit difficulties while flying.

Daily ​Express

Manufacturing boost: Rise in new exports keeps factories firing: The sector, which generates about 10% of growth, continued to expand in December, albeit at a slower pace than the previous month when it enjoyed the best conditions for four years. Manufacturers entered the new year in bullish mood as a rise in export orders kept factories firing.

Millions of Britons face retirement disaster as they are in ‘the dark’ about their pension: Tens of millions of Britons face a retirement disaster because they have no idea how much pension they will have when they stop work. They also have no idea how much they need to save in order to hit their retirement income target.

City​ AM

Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance snaps up Australian coking coal mine from Glencore: Industrialist Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance has agreed to buy Glencore’s Tahmoor coking coal mine in Australia for an undisclosed sum. The move follows the British firm’s acquisition of the Whyalla steelworks in southern Australia last year.

UK commercial property volumes to exceed £50 billion in 2018: Sales in commercial property are tipped to exceed £50 billion for the sixth year running this year. Transaction volumes in the UK’s commercial property sector reached £55 billion last year, according to Colliers International. The real estate firm expects volumes to remain above £50 billion in 2018.

Tempcover set for growth after bosses lead a £13.3 million management buyout: The UK’s largest provider of pay-as-you-go motor insurance, Tempcover, has been bought out by its bosses for £13.3 million. The deal, which included a £7.5 million growth investment from Connection Capital and a £5.75 million debt package from Santander, is set to fund Tempcover’s expansion into new markets.

The ​Independent

Google’s ‘Dutch Sandwich’ shielded €16 billion from tax: Alphabet’s Google moved €15.9 billion euros (£14.1 billion) to a Bermuda shell company in 2016, saving at least €3 billion in taxes that year, regulatory filings in the Netherlands show.

Pret A Manger customers to get 50p discount if they bring their own mugs: Pret A Manger customers can now get a 50p discount on the price of hot drinks if they bring their own mug as the sandwich chain bids to reduce waste.

Millions of Britons start 2018 with huge Christmas debt: According to debt advice charity National Debtline, 16% of Britons – equivalent to around 7.9 million people - say they are likely to fall behind with their finances in January after spending too much at Christmas.

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