FTSE 100 closes in red
Prudential top riser on M&G demerger plan
US retail sales miss in February
Britain's blue chips finished in the red as US stocks plunged as traders fretted about geopolitical uncertainty and an unstable White House.
FTSE 100 closed down around six points at 7,132.
It came after the benchmark index climbed in the morning session, supported by big miners following solid industrial production data from China overnight.
But things turned after Wall Street stocks soured - the Dow Jones is down around 251 points at the time of writing, while the S&P 500 is off around 30 points as retail data showed a third consecutive month of falling sales.
In addition, in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May began retaliation towards Russia, expelling 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used in Salisbury, Wilts.
Fiona Cincotta, senior market analyst at City Index, said: "Geopolitical risk was once again on investor’s minds as relations between UK and Russia sour rapidly.
"The market reaction has been fairly muted so far, with some increased buying into 10-year gilts, bringing yields lower, a reflection of investors taking risk off the table," she added.
Top loser on Footsie was WM Morrison Supermarkets PLC (LON:MRW), which tanked 4.86% to 215.30p, despite announcing a special dividend and reporting an increase in full year profits and revenues.
Analysts suggested that profit taking may have played a big part in the decline.
3.50pm: Oil prices dip as US crude supplies rise more than expected
Oil prices have edged lower after the US Energy Information Administration said crude supplies rose by 5 million barrels in the week ended March 9.
It was more than the increase of 2.5 million barrels expected by analysts at S&P Global Platts, adding to concerns about the global supply glut.
Gasoline stockpiles, however, fell by 6.3 million barrels and distillate stockpiles decreased by 4.4 million barrels.
Brent crude dropped 0.5% to US$64.33 per barrel and West Texas Intermediate fell 0.6% to US$60.32 each.
3.30pm: London and US stocks pare gains
The FTSE 100 has come off its gains in late afternoon trade with the index flat at 7,140 points.
Across the pond, US stocks have retreated as investors weigh weak US retail sales data and monitor political developments following the departure of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
“Having promised a 100 point climb after the bell, the Dow Jones ended up falling by 140 points, taking the index back below 24900 for the first time since last Friday,” said Spreadex financial analyst, Connor Campbell.
“The ongoing chaos of Donald Trump’s White House, specifically the departure of one of the comparatively more reasonable members of the circus Rex Tillerson, is likely the reason behind the Dow’s disappointing open, investors unhappy with the constant political instability.”
3.00pm: RBS investment bank makes comeback
The investment bank of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (LON:RBS) has been attracting new business after almost a decade of cost cuts to put the division back on track, Reuters reported citing executives and industry data.
The division, NatWest Markets, almost bankrupt its parent at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 when it emerged that the investment bank held a large chunk of toxic assets.
In response, the business has cut its product lines to three from 28 including interest-rate products, currencies and financing.
It has risen to eighth place in the league tables of euro-denominated bond sales for financial institutions in 2018 so far from 15th place in 2016 and 2017, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Harsh Shah, head of financial institutions origination and solutions, told Reuters his team had been reopening dialogue with clients.
2.30pm: Retail sales to rebound in coming months, Berenberg expects
The weak US retail sales data is disappointing in light of high consumer sentiment, ongoing job gains and an increase in disposable incomes from tax cuts, according to analysts at Berenberg.
Berenberg expects retail sales to rebound in coming months as the “fundamentals underlying consumption are solid”.
“We continue to expect consumption to move higher in the coming months, but the financial market volatility in early February may have had a larger impact on consumer activity than we initially thought,” it said.
US stocks have pared gains seen at the open, with the Dow down 48 points to 24,963, the S&P 500 flat at 2,766 and the Nasdaq up just 7 points to 7,518.
2.00pm: Treasury responds to IFS tax claim
The Treasury has responded to claims from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that it needs to raise more than £30mln in taxes to balance the budget by the mid-2020s.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “Our balanced approach has reduced the deficit while also cutting taxes for over 30 million people and investing in our vital public services.
"We are training more doctors, more schools are rated as outstanding and we are funding the second largest defence budget in NATO.
"Thanks to the hard work of the British people we will now see the first sustained fall in debt in 17 years.”
1.30pm: US stocks open higher
US stocks have opened in positive territory after disappointing US retail sales data dampened expectations for the next interest rate hike.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 62 points to 25,060, S&P 500 increased 4 points to 2,770 and the Nasdaq added 11 points to 7,522.
Retail sales unexpectedly declined in February for a third month, suggesting consumer spending will cool this quarter from the strong gains seen in the last three months.
Separate data showed wholesale prices in the US rose by 0.2% in February, more than the 0.1% increase expected by analysts but easing back from a 0.4% increase in January.
The increase in the producer price index was driven by the cost of services such as passenger flights, lodging and telecommunications.
Excluding volatile items, such as energy and food, PPI increased by 0.4% in February against expectations of 0.2% and following a 0.4% rise in January.
1.10pm: Toys R Us reportedly fails to find buyer
Toys R Us stores in the UK are reportedly set to close in the next six weeks after the retailer’s collapse.
The BBC reported that attempts to find a buyer for Toys R Us UK have failed.
Toys R Us UK appointed Moofields as its administrators last month to begin winding down the company. In recent days 25 stores have either shut or are due to close by Thursday.
The chain’s US parent is also understood to be close to collapse and is said to be closing its 800 stores this week.
12.30pm: US stock futures rise, retail sales data misses forecasts
US retail sales unexpectedly fell in February for a third month, the Commerce Department revealed.
Sales dropped 0.1% after falling 0.1% in January and December. Economists were expecting a 0.3% rise.
The figures indicate that consumer spending will cool this quarter from strong gains seen in the previous three months.
US stocks are pointing to a higher open with the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures up 11 points to 25,161 , S&P 500 futures up 8.5 points to 2,781 and Nasdaq futures up 32 points to 7,115.
On the US corporation front, Signet Jewelers Ltd. (NYSE:SIG) shares fell more than 10% ahead of the opening bell after the parent company for the Zales, Kay and Jared chains unveiled a restructuring plan to be carried out over the next three years.
Century Aluminum Co. (NASDAQ:CENX) shares increased 4% after JP Morgan lifted its target price to US$29 from US$18.
12.10pm: Prudential and mining shares lead FTSE 100 higher
The FTSE 100 rose 21 points to 7,160 in midday trade with Prudential leading the way.
Prudential PLC (LON:PRU) shares jumped 6% to 1,931p as investors applauded the company’s decision to spin-off its UK and European business M&G and sell a proportion of its UK annuity portfolio worth £12bn.
WM Morrison Supermarkets PLC (LON:MRW) was the biggest faller on the FTSE 100 with shares down 3.8% to 217p despite announcing a special dividend and reporting an increase in full year profits and revenues.
“The announcement of a special dividend likely helped to attract a few buyers early this morning, however without a commitment to further special dividends, and capping a more than 10% rally from February’s lows, many shareholders are deciding to take profits and run,” said Henry Croft, research analyst at Accendo Markets.
Away from corporate news, data showed Chinese industrial production rose more than expected in February but retail sales in the nation missed forecasts.
ECB President Mario Draghi said asset purchases would continue until it is satisfied that inflation is rising toward its target. He also warned there could be repercussions from new US tariffs on
Meanwhile, investors continued to mull over yesterday’s Spring Statement and news of Rex Tillerson’s exit as US Secretary of State.
11.30am: ECB to avoid surprises with stimulus plans
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said adjustments to its stimulus plans will remain “predictable” as inflation remains too low and there are concerns over US trade policies and a stronger euro.
Speaking at the annual ECB and Its Watchers conference in Frankfurt, he said: “We still need to see further evidence that inflation dynamics are moving in the right direction. So monetary policy will remain patient, persistent and prudent.”
He said the ECB will end asset purchases only when it is satisfied that price growth is on a sustained path toward its objective.
Consumer price inflation is expected undershoot the ECB’s target of just under 2 percent for years to come.
The euro fell 0.16% versus the pound and 0.12% against the dollar.
Draghi said US trade policies are a potential risk after Donald Trump decided to impose steel and aluminum tariffs. The European Union has threatened retaliation in response to the trade restrictions.
While Draghi said the initial impact is likely to be small, “there are potential second-round effects that could have much more serious consequences”.
*DRAGHI SEES RISK OF SPILLOVERS FROM NEW U.S. TRADE POLICIES— Michael Hewson ???????? (@mhewson_CMC) 14 March 2018
“These include the risk of retaliation across other goods and an escalation of trade tensions, and the potential for negative confidence effects which would weigh on business investment in particular.”
11.00am: Remortgaging reaches nine-year high in January
Remortgaging activity reached a nine-year high in January as a high number of fixed-rate loans came to an end, UK Finance revealed.
The report showed there were 49,800 remortgages completed in January, up 19.1% on the same month last year and the highest number since November 2008.
Jackie Bennett, director of mortgages at UK Finance, said borrowers locked into attractive deals amid expectations of further interest rate rises.
"While an increase in remortgaging is expected in the New Year as people put their household finances in order, this strong growth is above the seasonal fluctuations we tend to see at this time of year."
The number of first-time buyer mortgages rose 7% year-on-year to 24,500.
The average first-time buyer is 30 and has a gross household income of £41,000, UK Finance said.
10.30am: Hammond needs to raise £30bn worth of taxes, says IFS
Chancellor Philip Hammond would need to raise £30bn worth of taxes to keep government spending level and cut the deficit, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said Hammond would face challenges in raising enough taxes to balance the UK's budget by the mid-2020s.
"He has been unable to tackle the problems posed by the increasing numbers of self-employed and company owner managers, who pay less tax than similarly remunerated employees, he said.
"He – like his predecessor – looks wholly unable to maintain the real value of fuel duties."
Hammond has promised to cut the deficit between spending and borrowing to zero.
John said the £30bn the Chancellor may need to achieve Budget balance may not even be enough.
"Additional demographic pressures could add another £11bn a year to the money the government would need to find from somewhere in 2025 if it wants to cover the additional demands for health, pension and social care spending."10.00am: Google to ban ads for Bitcoin
Google is planning to ban advertising for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrenices.
The search engine will change its advertising policy for certain financial services, including cryptocurrencies, in June.
The ban will also apply to its YouTube platform and third party websites where it sells advertising space. Google did not explain the reason for the decision but it comes as part of a part of a broader crackdown on the marketing of high-risk financial products.
In January Facebook announced in January that it would ban all ads for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in an effort to stop misleading and deceptive promotions.
9.30am: Prudential split makes sense, says analyst
Shares have risen more than 5% to 1,919p.
In an organisation as complex and diverse as Pru, a split makes sense,” said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
“It allows investors to get a firmer handle on what’s going on at each of the component businesses, and should help M&G focus on its own progress rather than having to compete with the rapidly growing Asian business for management attention.”
8.50am: FTSE open higher on weaker pound
The FTSE 100 ignored the unfolding political chaos in the US, posting a 25 point gain to 7,164.13, buoyed by the slightly weaker pound.
“The potential benefits arising from the demerger are intriguing and, should Prudential capitalise on the opportunities, the move could be extremely rewarding,” said Richard Hunter, markets guru at Interactive Investor.
The shares advanced 2.4% as did stock in copper specialist Antofagasta (LON:ANTO), which was also given the Goldman seal of approval.
The stock popped up 15% to just under ten quid, but it has some way to go to recover lost ground, having been £25 a year ago.
Proactive news headlines:
Concern over waste plastics is driving customers towards Symphony Environmental Technologies plc (LON:SYM) and its biodegradable plastics additive, d2w. Michael Laurier, chief executive, said the desire to find a solution to the plastics problem has reached “tipping point”. Revenues rose 22% to £8.3mln in 2017 while underlying profits before R&D jumped 58% to £1.2mln.
AfriTin Mining Ltd (LON:ATM) said completion of detailed geological mapping has confirmed the presence of mineralisation throughout the unmined surface extensions over the V1 and V2 pegmatite bodies at the Uis tin mine in Namibia.
SDX Energy Inc (LON:SDX) (CVE:SDX) has struck a new oil discovery in the Rabul 5 well in the West Gharib Concession in Egypt, where the well will shortly be completed for production. The Rabul 5 well was drilled down to 5,280 feet and it encountered some 151 feet of net heavy oil pay, across the Yusr and Bakr formations. The average porosity was said to be 18%.
Futura Medical PLC (LON:FUM) said negotiations over a deal with a partner that would help commercialise its breakthrough erectile dysfunction treatment are at an advanced stage. MED2002 is a rapid onset gel designed for those men where the current pill-based treatments aren’t appropriate or carry significant side-effects.
Annualised recurring revenue (ARR) grew by more than a third in 2017 at StatPro Group PLC (LON:SOG), driven by the acquisition of Delta from UBS. The portfolio analytics software provider said ARR rose 35%, or 39% on a constant currency (CC) basis, to £53.04mln in 2017 from £93.27mln the year before.
Corero Network Security PLC (LON:CNS) has received two new orders for its SmartWall Threat Defense System technology and said two additional incremental orders are expected later in 2018. The AIM-listed cybersecurity provider said the new contract wins, with a combined value of US$0.9mln, consist of a new deal with a UK-based multi-brand media company and an ongoing development for an existing customer.
International specialist staffing group Empresaria Group plc (LON:EMR) has racked up 18 consecutive quarters of net fee income growth. The group said that worldwide economic conditions are “largely positive” and the main markets in which it operates are expected to grow – even the poor old UK, which continues to operate “under a cloud of Brexit uncertainty”.
Sound Energy PLC (LON:SOU) has updated investors on the process that will deliver shareholders stakes in Saffron Energy, as part of the divestment of the group’s Italian assets. The company is selling the Italian assets to Saffron, which is being relaunched as Coro Energy, in a share based deal though it won’t retain any of the stake. Instead, the shares will be redistributed to shareholders.
Europa Oil & Gas Holdings Plc (LON:EOG) told investors that it intends to fast-track ongoing technical work on the Licensing Option 16/20, an exploration area in the vicinity of the Corrib gas field, offshore Ireland. It is picking up the pace because of positive findings in the work carried out to date.
Touchstone Exploration Inc (LON:TXP, TSE:TXP) told investors that it has optimised the wells drilled in 2017 and updated on the 2018 drill programme. Oil sales averaged 1,521 and 1,552 barrels per day for the months of January and February respectively, at average prices of US$61.17 and US$57.79 per barrel.
Alba Mineral Resources PLC (AIM: ALBA), which has oil interests in the emerging Weald Basin in the south of England, has appointed a heavy hitting technical consultant. She is Sue Corrigan, a geologist and geoscientist with 40 years' industry experience in both exploration and development geology.
6.45am: London set for down day
Further falls are in prospect for London's blue chips after US markets fell yesterday in the wake of a shake-up in the White House.
The FTSE 100, which fell 76 points yesterday to close at 7,139, is expected to decline a further 20 points this morning.
“Personnel issues in the White House left investors nervous over the direction of the Trump administration for a second time in so many weeks, pulling the major US indices lower. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, often considered the voice of reason in a sometimes very chaotic White House, was ousted by Trump over a difference of stance towards foreign policy. With Tillerson out the door, the market is assuming that Trump is aiming for a more aggressive foreign policy; enough to send a chill through the markets,” commented Jasper Lawler, the head of research at London Capital Group.
US indices took a step back, with the Dow Jones down 172 at 25,007 and the S&P 500 off 18 at 2,765.
Asian markets were similarly perturbed by mayhem in the White House, with the Nikkei 225 in Japan down 191 at 21,777 towards the end of trading and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong 390 points in the hole at 31,211.
In the UK, a busy schedule is in prospect on the corporate calendar.
Things have been looking up a bit of late for Morrisons, which had a strong finish to 2017.
Jefferies recently upgraded the stock to ‘buy’ from ‘hold’ and lifted its target price to 265p from 225.50p, saying Morrisons is best placed to benefit from an expected easing of inflation and a more supportive consumer outlook.
The focus of insurance giant the Pru increasingly seems to be on Asia, where it is busy selling its products to the new middle class.
The first half of 2017, according to Mike Wells, group chief executive, saw growth across all of the main performance measures “led by double-digit growth in our Asian business”.
Morgan Stanley is predicting full-year core pre-tax profits of £6.74bn, up from £5.81bn in 2016.
The demise of Carillion is expected to cost Balfour between £35mln and £45mln.
Significant announcements expected
Finals: Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC (LON:MRW), Prudential PLC (LON:PRU), Advanced Medical Solutions Group (LON:AMS), Balfour Beatty plc (LON:BBY), Burford Capital PLC (LON:BUR), Charles Taylor PLC (LON:CTR), Dignity PLC (LON:DTY), EKF Diagnostics Holdings PLC (LON:EKF), EMIS Group PLC (LON:EMIS), Empressaria Group PLC (LON:EMT), Forterra PLC (LON:FORT), Futura Medical PLC (LON:FUM), Hikma Pharmaceuticals PLC (LON:HIK), Marshall Motor Holdings PLC (LON:MMH), SafeCharge International Group Limited (LON:SCH), StatPro Group PLC (LON:SOG), Somero Enterprises Inc (LON:SOM)
Economic data: UK trade in goods; US retail sales; US forward PPI
Around the markets
- Pound: US$1.3969, up 0.07 cents
- 10-year gilt: yielding 1.488%
- Gold: US$1,326.80 an ounce down 30 cents
- Brent crude: US$64.48 a barrel, down 16 cents
- Bitcoin: £6,522.91, up £3.78
The Daily Telegraph
Anti-corruption body turns eye to Rio Tinto’s Mongolian copper mine: Rio Tinto is facing further scrutiny of an expensive new copper mine in Mongolia after it revealed the country’s Anti-Corruption Authority (ACA) had demanded financial information on the project.
Tech giants face higher UK taxes as Treasury prepares crackdown: Internet giants face higher taxes in Britain after the Treasury said it favoured introducing a levy on revenues earned in the UK. Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple could all be subject to the measure, which may be introduced as soon as the Budget later this year.
Holiday Inn operator Intercontinental Hotels Group joins £1.2 billion race for luxury hotels: Intercontinental Hotels Group has teamed up with a property investor to participate in the £1.2 billion auction of the company behind the Principal and De Vere hotel brands.
Tonic maker Fevertree’s profits get a mixed response: When a company is trading on a multiple of almost 70 times its earnings, it doesn’t take much for the shares to lose a bit of fizz, as Fevertree Drinks, the tonic maker, found yesterday.
Antofagasta in driving seat as copper demand outstrips supply: A global shortage of large-scale new copper mining projects, combined with strong demand linked to the rise of electric vehicles, will ensure prices remain robust, according to the chief executive of Antofagasta.
Computacenter feels pressure despite record year: An IT services provider faces a challenging year ahead with its margins under pressure, despite reporting record group revenues of £3.79 billion. Computacenter said that the business mix had become skewed towards lower margin software sales. The company’s shares fell 8.2% to £10.36, despite a 28.2% rise in pre-tax profits to £111.7 million.
Loans and jewellery sales lift pawnbroker’s profits: Britain’s biggest pawnbroker had a “milestone year” in which its profits were boosted by personal loans and online jewellery sales. H&T Group said that its pre-tax profit rose by 45% to £14.1 million last year, with revenue rising from £96.6 million to more than £110 million.
Volkswagen CEO pay soars 40% to €10 million as profits rise despite emissions cheating fallout: Volkswagen chief executive Matthias Mueller’s pay jumped 40% last year to more than €10 million (£8.9 million) as the car maker’s profits soared despite continued fallout from the emissions cheating scandal.
Spring Statement: UK growth outlook revised up in 2018, but down in 2021 and 2022: The UK economy will grow faster this year than previously forecast and the deficit will be some £5 billion lower, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said on Tuesday as he delivered his first Spring Statement.
Chance of Saudi Arabia choosing London or New York for massive public listing ‘may be diminishing’: The chances of Saudi Arabia choosing either London or New York as the destination for a massive stock market listing of oil giant Saudi Aramco may be fading.
Trade war could derail global economic recovery, warns OECD: The west’s leading economic think-tank has warned Donald Trump that a trade war prompted by US protectionism threatens to derail a recovery in global growth, which has reached its highest level in seven years.
Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk unveils autonomous flying taxis: Autonomous flying taxis just took one big step forward to leaping off the pages of science fiction and into the real world, thanks to Google co-Founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk.
UK will save no money from Brexit for next five years, says OBR: The UK will save no money from leaving the European Union over the next five years and could be paying its Brexit divorce bill until at least 2064, according to the government’s independent budget watchdog.
E-sports broadcaster Gfinity strikes a deal with Facebook to air its video game tournaments: E-sports broadcaster Gfinity has struck a deal to air its events on Facebook. The social network will broadcast weekly instalments of video game tournaments for the popular FIFA 18, Rocket League and Street Fighter titles.
£391 million sliced from sandwich firm Greencore as struggling US arm takes a big bite out of profits: You would hope Greencore’s sandwiches taste better than the enormous losses it has plated up for investors. Greencore, the world’s biggest sandwich maker, issued a profit warning yesterday that wiped £391 million off its value.
Fashion chain French Connection believes it’s ‘very close’ to becoming profitable as its posts yet another annual loss: Fashion retailer French Connection is ‘very close’ to returning to profitable trading, despite posting annual losses for the sixth consecutive year.
Banks turn to blockchain as JP Morgan launches own cryptocurrency tech: Banks are turning to blockchain as JP Morgan launches its own technology that is known as the power behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Sterling sinks as Barnier confirms EU’s plan for Custom’s Union in NI: The Pound is suffering as fears of a Brexit “no deal” scenario were heightened after the EU’s draft legal text states that Northern Ireland, “shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union”.
The Scottish Herald
Cairn Energy hails results of its North Sea expansion: Cairn Energy has said the hefty investment it has made in the North Sea has begun paying off following the start of production from two big fields and highlighted its faith in the exploration potential of the area.
TfL’s fares income from the Tube is down £89 million so far this year due to fewer passenger journeys than expected: Transport for London (TfL) is continuing to battle the impact of an unexpected dip in passenger numbers, with both rail and London Underground fare income lower than expected for the year so far.