FTSE 100 closes higher on trade talk optimism; miners big winners

President Trump is due to sit down for talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at around 7.30pm UK time

The deadline approaches but the mood music is encourgaging
  • FTSE 100 closes up 11 points

  • Heavywight miners lead gains

  • Hopes rise of a US-Sino trade deal 

  • Metro Bank gets £120mln of funding


FTSE 100 closed the day in positive territory where it spent the day as Wall Street shares were also higher as  the market await the highly Anticipated meeting between President Donald Trump and China’s top trade negotiator.

The UK's premier share index closed up around 11 points at 7,178 on the day but was down around 0.8% over the last five days.

Mid-tier cousin FTSE 250 was also up, finishing at 19,269 - up nearly 33 points.

Large cap miners were the big Footsie winners on the back of the trade optimism. Evraz (LON:EVR) added 3.54% to 550.20p. Anglo American (LON:AAL) gained 3.38% to stand at 2,057p.

Glencore (LON:GLEN) was also up, adding 2.78% to 308.85p.

On the losing front on Friday, Barclays (LON:BARC) was in the frame. The bank's shares shed 2.89% to 156.14p.

News emerged that City veteran Sir Gerry Grimstone is to step down as a director of the group and as the chairman of its Barclays Bank subsidiary at the end of the month.


3.40pm: SFO drops probes into Rolls Royce and GSK

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has dropped its investigations into aerospace firm Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC (LON:RR.) and drugs giAnt GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK).

Engine maker Rolls was being investigated over concerns about bribery and corruption, which led the firm to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement in 2017. GSK's probe concerned "commercial practices" at the company.

SFO director Lisa Osofsky said: “After an extensive and careful examination I have concluded that there is either insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction or it is not in the public interest to bring a prosecution in these cases.”

3.30pm: Miners prop up Footsie

It’s not just Wall Street stocks that are feeling the love from what traders hope might be the beginning of the end of the US-China trade war, European markets are too.

The FTSE 100 is up 21.8 points, or 0.3%, to 7,189.2, although it had been above 7,200 for most of the afternoon session.

With the prospect of a trade truce potentially reviving the flagging economy in China – the world’s biggest consumer of metals and minerals – miners have been in demand all day long.

Russian miner Evraz Holdings PLC (LON:EVR) (up 3.7% to 551p), commodities trading giAnt Glencore PLC (LON:GLEN) (up 3.4% to 310.7p) and Anglo American PLC (LON:AAL) (up 3.4% to 2,057p), the owner of the De Beers diamond business, occupy the top three spots on the FTSE 100.

British Gas owner Centrica PLC (LON:CAN) is also near the top, up 1.5% to 123p, after it took a beating yesterday on the back of its 2018 results.

Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) has succumbed to a bout of profit taking after the stock jumped higher yesterday on the news that bosses plan to return more money to shareholders over the coming years.

The bank is down almost 2.5% to 156.9p, making it the top blue-chip faller. B&Q parent Kingfisher PLC (LON:KGF) isn’t too far behind, down 2% to 234.3p.

3.15pm: US stocks jump on hope of China trade truce

Wall Street opened higher Thursday ahead of a highly Anticipated meeting between President Donald Trump and China’s top trade negotiator.

Trump will meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Washington, DC Friday afternoon in the latest round of discussions as the US and China attempt to come to a deal on trade.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 86.54 points, or 0.33% to 25,937.17. Intel, Pfizer and Microsoft Corp were among the top boosts to the Big Board.

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 gained 0.31% to 2,783.54, led higher by Keysight Technologies, Intuit Inc and Concho Resources Inc.

The Nasdaq Composite index also sprang into the green hovering at 7,493.26, led higher by JD.com, Nvidia Corp, and Intel.

3pm: Kraft Heinz plunges as SEC probes its accounts

Kraft Heinz Company (NASDAQ: KHC) has stunned investors with a huge loss, slashed its dividend and said it is being probed over the way it adds up its numbers.

Shares in the baked beans, ketchup and cheese giAnt plunged by a quarter in early deals in New York to US$35.45.

The Securities and Exchange Commission launched the probe into its agreements with vendors in October. Kraft said it was co-operating fully but did not expect a material impact on profits, although it has already racked up US$25mln of costs due to the investigation.

Underlying profits in the final quarter of 2018 also missed expectations by about US$1bn at US$1.7bn due to what Kraft said was a combination of unanticipated cost inflation and lower-than-planned savings.

Because of the profits miss, Kraft also took a write-down on its Kraft and Oscar Meyer brands of US$15.4bn in total, which pushed the group to an attributable loss of US$12.6bn for the quarter and US$10.3bn for the year. Sales over the three months were flat at US$6.8bn.

Kraft Heinz, which tried to buy Unilever in 2017 for US$143bn, also cut its quarterly dividend by 36% to 40c.

2.45pm: Provident Financial set to be taken over by ex-boss

Subprime lender Provident Financial PLC (LON:PFG) has received a takeover offer from Non-Standard Finance PLC (LON:NSF), the consumer finance provider headed by its ex-chief executive John van Kuffeler.

The all-share deal, which values FTSE 250 Provident at around £1.3bn, has been backed by one of its major shareholders Woodford Investment Management, which owns a 25.3% stake in the company and is headed by high-profile fund manager Neil Woodford.

On a per share basis, the offer values each Provident share at 511p, equal to its last close price on 21 February, with Provident’s shareholders owning around 88% of the newly enlarged group post-transaction.

Provident has endured a torrid couple of years during after its credit card diviosin, Vanquis, was fined £2mln by the FCA and ordered to pay £169mln to customers for mis-selling a repayment option plan (ROP).

Shares are up 13% to 578p in mid-afternoon trading on Friday.

2.25pm: Rival bid for Dairy Crest?

Dairy Crest Group PLC (LON:DCG) has risen to the top today after the Cathedral City cheese maker agreed to be taken out by Canadian dairy giAnt Saputo in a deal worth £975mln.

But are investors in the FTSE 2015 company gambling on a rival bid coming in?

Well, the shares are up 13.1% today to 627.5p, slightly above the offer of 620p put forward by Canadian dairy giant Saputo.

As yet, there are no rumours swirling round about another potential suitor, but it is very rare for a share price to go above an offer if the market isn’t expecting the bid price to increase.

Of course, this could also be shareholders' way of telling Saputo it needs to stump up more if it wants them to back the takeover.

Commenting on the deal, Dairy Crest chairman Stephen Alexander, said: "The board is unanimously recommending this all-cash offer by Saputo to buy Dairy Crest at an attractive premium, which represents compelling value for Dairy Crest Shareholders.

He added: "The acquisition should enable Dairy Crest to benefit from Saputo's global expertise and strong financial position to fulfil and accelerate its growth ambitions.”

2pm: What’s kicking off next week? Everything…

I can tell you right now, next week is going to be BUSY.

On Thursday alone, more than 25 companies are scheduled to release updates or results of one form or another. That includes British Airways’ parent IAG, estate agent Foxtons and Thorpe Park owner Merlin Entertainments.

A trio of housebuilders – Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Bovis Homes – are all due up next week, too, as is Associated British Foods, Rolls Royce and ad giAnt WPP.

Take a look here for a more in-depth preview.

1.30pm: Merlin to sell Australian ski resorts

Merlin Entertainments PLC (LON:MERL) is to sell its Australian ski resorts, Hotham and Falls Creek in the state of Victoria, to US mountain resort firm Vail Resorts Inc (NYSE:MTN).

The FTSE 250 owner of LEGOLAND and Madame Tussauds said the £95mln deal was expected to close by June 2019, with the proceeds to be used for “general corporate purposes”.

Nick Varney, Merlin’s chief executive, said the sale would allow the firm to focus on its “core business of location-based entertainment, specifically theme Parks and Midway attractions”.

The shift in focus follows concerns from analysts around customer review data for Merlin’s Midway division, which includes attractions such as the London Dungeon and the London Eye.

In mid-afternoon trading Friday, shares are down 1.2% to 361.8p.

1.05pm: Wall Street set for strong start

Wall Street stocks are set to bounce back from Thursday’s negative close when the markets open in New York in an hour or so.

Like their European counterparts, US traders seem buoyed by President Trump’s meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He later today.

On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed around 53 points at 25,901, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq index shed around six points at 7,482.

And in futures trade today, the Dow Jones is up 108 points; the S&P 500 is 10.5 points higher, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq is seen up 28 points.

“Looking to the US and the Dow Jones is aiming for a 100 point increase after the bell,” said Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell.

“That’d take the Dow back to 25950, having fallen from 26000 on Thursday. Trump isn’t set to meet Liu He until 2.30pm US time, so it’ll be interesting to see if the markets can maintain their positive attitude.”

12.40pm: Metro Bank surges on £120mln grAnt win

Metro Bank PLC (LON:MTRO) shares are well up so far today after the challenger bank was the big winner in the first round of funding from an RBS-funded competition scheme.

Metro has been awarded £120mln, sending the stock up 5% to 1,369p. Rivals Starling Bank and ClearBank were the other victors, bagging £100mln and £60mln, respectively.

That is all that has been dished out so far, but there’s still another £495mln left in the pot will be doled out later this year.

Still, CYBG PLC (LON:CYBG) investors weren’t happy at missing out on the first round of grAnts, with the Virgin Money owner down 5.2% to 187p.

The funds are coming from Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (LON:RBS) as part of the terms of its £45bn government bailout back in 2008.

After the state-backed bank scrapped plans to sell off its Williams & Glyn business to Santander, it was forced to set aside the funds to encourage those customers to switch to other lenders.

12.15pm: Hopes of US-China trade truce boosts European markets

The FTSE 100, like most of Europe, is in the black today, with markets buoyed by the White House’s announcement last night that President Donald Trump is set to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He later this afternoon.

The two economic superpowers have been involved in a months-long trade war, with both hiking import tariffs on the other’s goods.

“It would appear that there’s been some real progress made in the talks, at least enough to extend the truce and avoid further tariff hikes,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.

“This is a major risk for markets and is helping to feed into the improved risk appetite we’ve seen this year. If Trump’s team can get this over the line before next week’s deadline, it could provide a major boost although European investors.”

That optimism has helped to push the FTSE 100 up 38.6 points, or 0.54%, to 7,206.0 – keeping the index at around four-and-a-half month highs.

Given that China is the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials and metals, and that a trade truce with the US might alleviate some pressure on its stalling economy, miners are at the top of the FTSE leader board.

De Beers owner Anglo American PLC (LON:AAL), fresh from yesterday’s full-year results, is top of the pack, up 3.4% to 2,056.7p. Glencore PLC (LON:GLEN) isn’t far behind, rising 2.8% to 308.8p, while BHP Group PLC (LON:BHP) has gained 2.5% to 1,832.4p.

At the end of the board, Nurofen maker Reckitt Benckiser PLC (LON:RB.) is the heaviest faller, down 1.2% to 5,898p. The consumer goods giAnt reported a 7% rise in net income for 2018 earlier in the week.

11.45am: Sir Gerry Grimstone steps down as Barclays Bank chair

City veteran Sir Gerry Grimstone is to step down as a director of Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) and as the chairman of its Barclays Bank subsidiary at the end of the month.

His departure comes just weeks after he left his role as the chairman of investment giant Standard Life Aberdeen PLC (LON:SLA).

The 69-year-old, who had previously been the FTSE 100 firm’s’ deputy chairman, said he was leaving with Barclays in “very good shape”, but that it is an “appropriate moment for a change”.

“Going forward, I will be concentrating on my public sector activities in the UK, my work with Deloitte in Europe and globally, my work in the Gulf, India, China and elsewhere in Asia-Pacific,” Grimstone added.

11.20am: Britain’s retailers’ struggles continue

There seems to be no let up for the subdued UK high street, with the Confederation of British Industry reporting that retail sales volumes are flat so far this year.

Home improvement retailers – those which sell carpets, hardware, furniture etc – have struggled the most. Unsurprisingly, online retailers are the top performers, while clothes sales are also positive.

More worryingly, retailers’ investment intentions have fallen to their lowest in seven years ahead of next month’s Brexit deadline.

“The High Street has seen a slow start to the year, with year-on-year sales volumes unchanged again this month,” said the CBI’s head of economic Intelligence, Anna Leach.

“Retail investment plans have taken a hit this quarter, falling to their weakest since 2012. Until politicians can agree a deal that commands a majority in parliament, is acceptable to the EU and protects our economy, business despair will deepen.”

10.45am: US-China trade talk hopes boost commodity plays

The Footsie extended its gains in the second half of the morning session on some mild optimism over the US-China trade talks.

The FTSE 100 was up 27 points (0.4%), at its intra-day high.

“All eyes are on the US as we close out the week, with another round of trade talks set to conclude today. With European markets trading in the green, there is a certain degree of optimism which centres around the growing feeling that we are closing in on some form of resolution in talks between the US and China,” suggested Joshua Mahony at IG Group.

“It comes as no surprise to see the mining sector drive the FTSE 100 higher, with investors jumping on board amid improving trade sentiment,” he added.

Publishing group Pearson PLC (LON:PSON) was firmer after the release of its results but lagging the market a tad with a 0.2% increase at 885p.

“Pearson has been experiencing problems for a while – a trend towards cheaper study materials and digital resources has left the group in a tough spot. That means sales have been flat-lining, so it’s come as a nice surprise to hear it expects performance to improve from here,” said Sophie Lund-Yates at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Pearson has historically relied too heavily on cost savings to keep itself going – it should be applauded for squeezing out such savings, but at some point the juice has to run out and sales growth needs to take over.

“If grades were being handed out, the US higher education courseware business would be lucky to get a pass this year. Problems here mean revenue has been disappointing for a while, and a lot of that’s because competitors have been introducing new, lower-cost business models that better meet demand for inexpensive, quality materials,” Lund-Yates said.

9.30am: Miners give the Footsie a lift

Buoyed by the strength of miners, the top-share index has continued its mildly authoritative start.

The FTSE 100 was up 16 points (0.2%) at 7,183, with miners occupying five of the top eight slots on the Footsie leader board – and two of the other three spots were taken by fellow travellers Evraz PLC (LON:EVR), the steel maker, and Johnson Matthey PLC (LON:JMAT), the platinum refiner.

“One week to go until the 1st March China, US trade deadline and we don’t appear any closer to finding out whether it will be extended. That still seems to be the most likely outcome given some of the smoke signals coming from recent discussions, as well as all the chatter over various memoranda,” commented Michael Hewson at CMC Markets.

“It is reported that President Trump will meet China’s top trade negotiator Liu He, later today to assess the progress on the ongoing talks, which might suggest that next week’s deadline could well get pushed out. That is already something that President Trump has indicated might happen given his recent comments that the date was not set in stone,” he added.

In the mid-cap space, road barriers maker Hill & Smith PLC (LON:HILS) continued its recent resurgence, rising 10p to 1,188p on the back of the acquisition of bollards maker ATG Access for of £22.5mln.

Theme Parks operator Merlin Entertainments PLC (LON:MERL), meanwhile, was pruning its business, selling its Austrian ski resorts for around £95mln. The shares were down 1.9p at 364.1p.

8.45am: Footsie rallies

The FTSE 100 made a quiet but positive start to proceedings as it clawed back some ground lost Thursday.

The index of blue-chip shares nudged up 14 points to 7,180.97 as London shrugged off loss-making sessions on Wall Street and in Asia.

The big mover was Pearson (LON:PSON) as the educational publisher finally gave investors something to cheer about.

Its annual results revealed the last round of cost-cutting delivered the desired effect by boosting profits. Revenues, however, fell.

“Despite the claims that Pearson is ready to return to the sunny uplands of growth in 2020, there is little in these numbers nor indeed the 2019 guidance to suggest this is the case,” said Ian Whittaker, of City broker Liberum, who repeated his ‘sell’ recommendation.

The miners were firmer with Fresnillo (LON:FRES) and Glencore (LON:GLEN) leading the way.

JP Morgan Cazenove took a closer look at the sector, raising its price target for Anglo American (LON:AAL) and retaining its ‘overweight’ stance, while cutting its target for Kaz Minerals (LON:KAZ) and keeping a 'neutral’ rating. Anglo rose 1.8%, while Kaz was flat.

The big mover on the FTSE 250, up 12.5%, was Dairy Crest (LON:DCG), which has agreed to be bought for £975mln by Canadian gain Saputo.

Proactive news headlines:

Vast Resources PLC (LON:VAST), the AIM-listed mining company with operating mines in Romania and Zimbabwe, announced that the convertible securities issuance between the company and Bergen Global Opportunity Fund LP, dated 19 December 2018 has been terminated by the parties by mutual consent, effective as of 21 February 2019. Following the termination, the group said no further funding will be provided to the company under the agreement.

Mobile games developer Gaming Realms PLC (LON:GMR) is to sell Bear Group, the company's real money gaming operating subsidiary for £11.5mln. The buyer is River iGaming, a company listed in Oslo.

BlueRock Diamonds PLC (LON:BRD) shares sParkled in early deals after netting over US$150,000 from the sale of two diamonds recovered from its Kareevlei mine in South Africa.

Ariana Resources PLC (LON:AAU) managing director, Kerim Sener, hailed the “excellent” performance of the company’s Kiziltepe gold mine in Turkey after it delivered another strong quarter of low-cost production.

88 Energy Ltd (LON:88E) has updated on the drilling operations at the Winx-1 well in Alaska, telling investors that the surface casing has been run down to 2,500 feet. It now expects to start drilling the intermediate section of the well next week.

Stobart Group Ltd (LON:STOB) has completed the sale of its regional airline to Connect Airways – the joint venture it set up with Virgin Atlantic which has also finalised the £2.8mln acquisition of Flybe Group PLC’s (LON:FLYB) main trading assets.

Seeing Machines Limited (LON:SEE) has welcomed the European Parliament’s announcement that driver-monitoring technology such as its FOVIO system will become mandatory in all road vehicles. On Thursday, the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) voted to approve a range of new vehicle safety standards proposed by the European Commission last year.

Haydale Graphene Industries Group PLC (LON:HAYD) intends to raise up £7.8mln at a huge discount to the market price to shore up its finances. Of the money, £3.8mln is being raised through a placing at 2p per share while an open offer will bring in up to a further £4mln.

Advanced Oncotherapy PLC (LON:AVO) has announced that its Remuneration Committee has approved the grant of share options over a total of 4,000,000 new ordinary shares at an issue price of 100p each – a 141% premium to Wednesday’s closing share price - with a five-year term, expiring on 20 February 2024. Of the Options, 545,000 have been granted to the group’s executive chairman, Dr Michael Sinclair, 1,400,000 to its chief executive officer, Nicolas Serandour, 215,000 to Professor Stephen Myers and the remaining 1,840,000 to members of key management.

Europa Metals Ltd (LON:EUZ) (ASX:AUZ), the European lead-zinc explorer, said it has now received formal approval for its securities to commence trading on the AltX of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange with effect from the commencement of business on Friday, 1 March 2019.

Eco (AtlAntic) Oil & Gas Ltd. (LON:ECO) (TSX-V:EOG), the oil and gas exploration company with licenses in highly prospective regions in Guyana and Namibia, has been ranked second in the Energy Sector on the 2019 TSX Venture 50, up from fifth in 2018. This marks the second consecutive year Eco has been included in the TSX Venture 50, an annual ranking of the top-performing companies on the TSX Venture Exchange over the last year.

6.45am: FTSE 100 set to go its own way

The Footsie was expected to go its own way and claw back a few of yesterday’s losses this morning.

Spread betting quotes pointed to the top-share index opening at around 7,180 after it closed yesterday 61 points in the hole at 7,167.

That’s despite US indices finishing lower last night and most Asian indices trading in the red in the morning.

The Dow Jones shed 104 points to close at 25,851 while the S&P 500 finished at 2,775 yesterday, down 9.8 points.

“With next week’s trade truce deadline fast approaching nerves in the market are starting to show through. Right now there is no fresh news to keep sentiment elevated so investors are selling out ahead of the weekend,” commented Jasper Lawler at London Capital Group.

“Hope of a bit more transparency out of Washington this week versus last week in Beijing has not panned out. European futures are pointing to a softer start as they trace Wall Street and Asia lower. The FTSE looks set to be an exception, boosted by the weaker pound,” he added.

After yesterday’s fairly heavy day for big company news, the flow eases off a bit with publishing group Pearson PLC (LON:PSON) the pick of the bunch.

Analysts are expecting the US higher education arm of the FTSE 100 firm to once again drag on its figures.

The textbook publishing giant, which sold off its US school courseware business for US$250mln earlier this week, has struggled for a while now with declining textbook sales and the transition to digital learning.

Analysts at Hargreaves Lansdown reckon Pearson’s adjusted operating profits will come in at between £540mln-£545mln.

That’s in line with the firm’s own predictions from January, although much of this is likely to have come from cost-cutting, whereas Hargreaves would “like to see evidence Pearson is improving its sales figures”.

“We expect the North American higher education sector to continue struggling, given increasing technological and competitive pressures. Hopefully, this is being offset by demand for online and virtual learning materials – which should still be steadily growing,” the analysts added.

Significant events expected on Friday:

Finals: Pearson PLC (LON:PSON), Afarak Group PLC (LON:AFRK)

Economic data: CBI distributive trades survey

Around the markets:

  • Sterling: US$1.3032, down 0.08 cents
  • 10-year gilt: yielding 1.099%
  • Gold: US$1,328.20 an ounce, up 40 cents
  • Brent crude: US$67.07 a barrel, unchanged
  • Bitcoin: US$3,951.62, up US$16.83

City headlines:

Financial Times

  • President Trump has lifted expectations that he was laying the groundwork for a deal to end the US trade war with China
  • Online banking is coming to Hong Kong, with digital banking licences set to be doled out to six companies including Ant Financial, Tencent and Xiomi.

Daily Mail

  • British Gas owner Centrica’s boss Iain Conn is under growing pressure after the company’s shares dived 11.7% to 121.15p, a level not seen since early 2003, on fears that its dividend will be cut.
  • Struggling airline Flybe completed a £2.8 million deal last night to sell its business to Connect Airways, the consortium which includes Virgin and airport owner Stobart Group.
  • Huawei has vowed to bring forward plans to address British security concerns within four months after officials from GCHQ's cyber-security arm said they had not yet had a 'credible' response from the Chinese telecoms group.

The Times

  • Apple is planning to launch a credit card with Goldman Sachs within the next few months that would link to the iPhone and give special features on the Apple Wallet app.
  • Eurotunnel has said that it can shrug off disruption from Brexit and expected profits this year to be in line with its 2018 record after months of preparation for the UK’s scheduled withdrawal from the European Union.
  • Kate Swann, the boss of the airport and station food retailer SSP Group, has suffered a shareholder revolt over her £6.2 million pay package as she prepares to leave in May after six years.
  • The US Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a subpoena to the food giant Kraft Heinz Co over its procurement accounting policies; the company also reported a net loss of $12.7 billion in its fourth quarter.
  • The software developer Micro Focus has handed its current and former bosses a pay package worth almost £40 million despite its share price falling to half.

The Guardian

  • Tariffs of 40% or more could be imposed on food such as beef and cheddar cheese after a no-deal Brexit, driving up prices in shops and squeezing household budgets across the UK and Ireland.
  • One of China’s biggest ports has banned imports of Australian coal and will cap overall coal imports for 2019 through its harbours at 12 million tonnes.
  • SSE has raised its standard variable energy tariff to meet Ofgem's latest price cap, joining the rest of the “Big Six”.

The Daily Telegraph

  • Barclays bosses have appealed to investors to turn down corporate raider Ed Bramson's bid for a seat on its board as they prepare to meet the activist investor in New York.
  • The German government has warned that it may have to draw down standby reserves to cope with an unemployment shock or a surge in part-time work following a no-deal Brexit.

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