FTSE 100 closes higher at end of week as risk appetite returns to global markets

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  • FTSE 100 closes up
  • Chancellor wants businesses back to the office after lockdown
  • Asda loses equal pay case against workers

5.05pm: FTSE closes ahead

FTSE 100 closed on Friday almost 1% higher as global markets enjoyed an uptick on the last day of the trading week.

Britain’s index of leading shares finished firmly ahead, up over 65 points, or 0.99%, at 6,740 with commodities stocks booming.

The more UK company focused FTSE 250 was also strong, adding almost 209 points, or 0.98%, at 21,486.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at trading group IG, noted the rebound that started yesterday on Wall Street had carried over into the Asian session and then on into Europe.

“A steady recovery for the FTSE 100 will come as welcome news for UK investors, and with the mid-cap FTSE 250 making even stronger gains there is reason to hope that the UK’s better performance on the vaccine front is continuing to bolster the attractiveness of UK assets,” he said.

“Overall today’s move looks more like a relaxation of concerns about the rise in yields, although with non-farm payrolls on the calendar for next week there is a risk that this will return to haunt the new quarter just as it has the old,” he added.

Among the top gainers on Footsie were Glencore PLC (LON:GLEN) and Antofagasta (LON:ANTO), which added 6.53% to 286.4p and 4.41% to 1,692.50p respectively.  Top gainer was Smiths Group (LON:SMIN), which added 6.92% to 1,560p, after revenues for the six months to end-January exceeded analyst expectations.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, gained over 228 at 32,848, while the S&P 500 added over 31 at 3,940. The Nasdaq gained almost 45 points at 13,022.

3.55pm: Rishi Sunak urges companies to go back to offices after lockdown

FTSE 100 was heading to a green close of the trading week, surging 53 points to 6,728.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has urged businesses to go back to their offices once lockdown ends.

In an interview published in The Daily Telegraph and the Sun, Sunak called on employers to end remote working.

Sunak believes that staff who are denied the opportunity to slog into the office by their employers will “vote with their feet” and defect to rival firms.

He did concede, however, that there should be some flexibility for those who prefer to work from home.

“If you’ve got the cash, invest it now, because we want you to do it now and help drive our recovery and that will create jobs in the process,” Sunak said.

Westfield Health, a charitable trust that works with companies to help employees cultivate healthy lifestyle habits, said the corporate wellbeing needs to be improved for a successful office return and to cut the cost of mental health absence, which has been calculated at £14bn.

“In order to make the return to work successful, employees need to be reassured that the workplace is safe, and that employers are open to co-creating a new normal. We are not slotting back into the world we left,” said Dave Capper, the chief executive officer of Westfield Health.

2.55pm: Supreme Court rules in favour of workers in Asda equal pay case

The Footsie stalled again in the early afternoon, jumping 60 points to 6,734, while sterling added to earlier gains and rose 0.3% to US$1.3791.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of 40,000 workers demanding a compensation claim to supermarket chain Asda of up to £500mln.

The ruling means shop floor staff at Asda, who are mostly women, can be compared to workers in the distribution centre, who are mostly men, when it comes to salary.

Today is the fourth time Asda has lost a court battle on this issue.

Workers’ union GMB has enlisted law firm Leigh Day to work the case on behalf of its members.

“This is amazing news and a massive victory for Asda’s predominantly women shop floor workforce,” said Susan Harris, GMB Legal Director, in a release.

“Asda has wasted money on lawyers’ bills chasing a lost cause, losing appeal after appeal, while tens of thousands of retail workers remain out of pocket.”

“We now call on Asda to sit down with us to reach agreement on the back pay owed to our members – which could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.”

2pm: Proactive North America headlines: 

CleanSpark Inc (NASDAQ:CLSK) buys 4,778 more Bitcoin mining rigs, works toward carbon-free mining

Naturally Splendid (CVE:NSP) (OTCMKTS:NSPDF) (FRA:50N)  appoints digital marketing veteran Kris Tarr as VP of e-commerce

Lucky Minerals Inc (TSXV:LKY) (OTCPINK:LKMNF) (FRA:LKY) taps venture capital veteran Diane Mann to serve as corporate secretary

First Cobalt Corp (CVE:FCC) (OTCQX:FTSSF) (FRA:18P) strikes amended loan deal with giant Glencore; to pay off debt with shares

Tetra Bio-Pharma Inc (TSX:TBP)(OTCQB:TBPMF)(FRA:JAM1)  initiates additional studies on lead drug candidate ARDS-003

Vuzix Corporation (NASDAQ:VUZI) prices underwritten public offering at $20.50 per share, with gross proceeds expected to be approximately $85M

1.46pm: Wall Street manages positive start

Wall Street managed to make a positive start to Friday’s session as traders looked to end a turbulent week on a high note.

Shortly after the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.54% at 32,795 while the S&P 500 climbed 0.41% to 3,925 and the Nasdaq rose 0.15% to 12,997.

The uptick appears to be related to a rise in post-pandemic optimism after US president Joe Biden doubled the country’s vaccination target for his first 100 days in office, while softer personal consumption expenditure data has somewhat allayed inflation fears.

Another piece of good news came from the Fed as it said the restrictions on bank dividends and share repurchases will end after June 30, providing a boost for financial stocks.

Back in London, the FTSE 100 had pushed higher into mid-afternoon and was up 58 points at 6,732 at around 1.45pm.

12.30pm: Burberry among fashion brands facing backlash in China over Uigher sanctions

FTSE 100 was resting on its laurels at midday, up 43 points to 6,719.

Burberry PLC (LON:BRBY), instead, dipped 1% to 1,880.5p after Britain and other Western countries imposed sanctions on China over the claims of systematic rights abuse of the Uighur community in Xinjiang.

Burberry’s famous red, black and tan design has already disappeared from characters in “Honor of Kings”, one of China’s top video games and published by online giant Tencent Holdings.

Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu meanwhile ended her brand ambassador role with Burberry as it has not “clearly and publicly stated its stance on cotton from Xinjiang,” her agency said.

Burberry is part of a group called the Better Cotton Initiative that in October said it would stop sourcing cotton from Xinjiang, where China has been accused of mass detainment, torture, forced labour and sterilisation, all claims that have been denied.

China is a huge market for Burberry and the brand is incredibly popular. In its last half-year, sales from the Asia Pacific region totalled more than 50% of the £860mln retail total.

The US broker says Adidas, Nike and H&M have all been targeted by negative comments on local Chinese social media and press reports due to their stance on cotton sourcing from Xinjiang.

On Wednesday, H&M started to receive negative social media comments and was removed from most Chinese e-commerce platforms (including Tmall, Taobao, JD.com and Pinduoduo), its store information removed from Chinese navigation providers, and its mobile app banned from Chinese app stores.

11.40am: Wall Street to open mixed as Suez Canal remains blocked

The Footsie added another few points in late morning and was up 47 points to 6,722.

Mining stocks were the top risers in the index, with Antofagasta plc (LON:ANTO) and Glencore PLC (LON:GLEN) adding 4%, while Anglo American PLC (LON:AAL), Rio Tinto PLC (LON:RIO) and BHP Group PLC (LON:BHP) all edging 3% higher.

Oilers were also appearing in the top end of the spectrum, with BP PLC (LON:BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (LON:RDSA) advancing 3% and 2% respectively, perhaps after the Brent price rose 2% to US$63.04 on Friday morning because of the container stuck in the Suez Canal.

“Front of mind for the market is the matter of the Suez Canal being blocked, potentially for many more days. What’s important is how that might affect global trade and the fact it is already causing shipping rates to rise, which in turn could fuel inflation as extra costs are passed on to the consumer,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

“This all suggests we remain at a fragile point for markets and one that could lead to heightened volatility.”

In fact, US futures were pointing at a mixed open, with the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 called higher and the Nasdaq expected to open in the red.

???? Suez canal blockage seen from space ????
Airbus-built Pléiades high-res. satellite image ????taken this morning, showing a container ship stuck in the canal. pic.twitter.com/YOuz1NEXk8

— Airbus Space (@AirbusSpace) March 25, 2021

10.45am: Oxford University to study COVID-19 vaccine delivery via nose

FTSE 100 held its gains later in the morning and was up 40 points to 6,715.

The University of Oxford is launching a study to deliver the vaccine via a nasal spray instead of injecting it.

The Phase I trial will enrol 30 healthy volunteers aged 18–40, who will be followed for a total of four months.

“Some immunologists believe that delivering the vaccine to the site of infection may achieve enhanced protection, especially against transmission, and mild disease,” said Dr Sandy Douglas, Clinician-Scientist and Chief Investigator of the study.

“We hope this small safety-focused study will lay the foundation for future larger studies that are needed to test whether giving the vaccine this way does protect against coronavirus infection.”

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) was urged to catch up with jab deliveries by the EU.

9.55am: UK retail sales partly recover in February but clothing remains on the shelves

FTSE 100 trimmed its gains in mid-morning, jumping 39 points to 6,714, while sterling rose 0.2% to US$1.3776.

UK retail sales volumes only partly recovered in February 2021 with an increase of 2.1% when compared with the 8.2% fall seen in January.

Sales were still down by 3.7% on a year earlier before the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Office for National Statistics said.

Department stores and household goods shops both reported a 16% increase, while clothing retailers tumbled 50%, followed by a 26% decline in automotive fuel stores due to travel restrictions.

The proportion spent online increased to 36.1% last month, the highest on record, from 20% a year ago.

“Many households have built up piles of savings during the pandemic, and this could be the start of a spending splurge on a social life after so long spent inside,” noted Susannah Streeter, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

8.40am: FTSE 100 to end week on a high

After a fairly subdued week, the FTSE 100 looks like it is aiming to check out on a high.

Wall Street ended Thursday in the green with American jobless claims at their lowest level since the pandemic began.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, has spotted a potential two-track economic rebound: “The differing fortunes of economies depending on vaccination rollout progress is becoming more pronounced.

“Europe is something of a laggard with the need for some further targeted lockdowns, while in the US and the UK the rollout programmes continue apace.”

The Footsie’s biggest riser was Smiths Group (LON:SMIN), up 4.5% after its first-half profits almost doubled.

A brighter global economic outlook gave a lift to the mining sector as did the stronger dollar, with Rio Tinto (LON:RIO), Antofagasta (ANTO) and Glencore (LON:GLEN) leading the way. 

Also benefiting from the revival of the American currency was Pearson (LON:PSON), up 2.6%, which derives a good slug of its earnings from the States.

Imperial Brands (LON:IMB) fell 1.8% after Jefferies downgraded the tobacco firm to ‘hold’ from ‘buy’.

Aberdeen Standard Life (LON:SLA) fell 1% after HSBC moved its call on stock in the fund manager to ‘hold’ too.

Proactive news headlines

Benchmark Holdings PLC (LON:BMK) shares jumped on Friday as the firm said it has signed its first customer agreements for the delivery of its CleanTreat novel water purification system.

Argo Blockchain PLC (LON:ARB) (OTCQX:ARBKF) was also on the march, up 13% in early trading on the back of an agreement with DMG Blockchain Solutions, a blockchain and cryptocurrency technology firm, to launch the first Bitcoin mining pool powered exclusively by clean energy.

Open Orphan PLC (LON:ORPH) has won a £7.5mln contract to conduct a human viral challenge study for an unnamed biotechnology company.

Bidstack Group PLC (LON:BIDS), whose technology implants advertising into computer games, said revenues in 2020 topped market expectations and it expects the top-line to continue motoring north in 2021.

Shield Therapeutics PLC (LON:STX) welcomed a real-world analysis of ferric maltol (the alternative name for the company’s lead drug Feraccru/Accrufer) in people with  iron-deficiency anaemia that have inflammatory bowel disease.

Emmerson PLC (LON:EML) said it has applied for admission to trading on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange and cancel its listing on the standard segment of the exchange’s main market. The potash development firm said the cancellation is expected to be effective at 8am on April 27, while its AIM admission is anticipated to begin at the same time.

Touchstone Exploration Inc (LON:TXP, TSE:TXP), in its financial results, highlighted a “year of significant progress” in which the company enhanced its financial position significantly.

Panthera Resources PLC (LON:PAT) said it had fast-tracked the next phase of exploration at its Bassala gold project in Mali after positive results from a completed soil sampling programme. 

PCF Group PLC (LOB:PCF) said customers in forbearance had dropped to just 5% of its loan book with lending overall rising slightly over the most recent five months.

Corcel Plc (LON:CRCL), in its interim results statement, told investors that its business is now extremely well placed to take advantage of the growing trends underpinning the world’s transition to a low carbon economy.

Iconic Labs PLC (LON:ICON) said that following its announcement on March 23 and the completion of required regulatory checks Brad Taylor has been immediately appointed to the board as chief executive and an executive director.  

Bahamas Petroleum Company PLC (LON:BPC) has released an updated corporate presentation, available on the company’s website, summarising and consolidating information that has recently been made publicly available. 

Avation PLC (LON:AVAP) announced that the maturity date of its 6.5% senior notes has been extended from May 2021 to 31 October 2026.

XLMedia PLC (LON:XLM) said it has granted share awards over a total of 470,977 ordinary shares in the company under its 2020 global share incentive plan.

6.50 am: Footsie set for a subdued start 

UK equities are set to end the week on a dull note, despite gains in the US yesterday and Asia this morning, with sterling’s rally weighing on sentiment.

Spread betting quotes indicate the FTSE 100 will open around 51 points lower at 6,675.

In the US, the Dow Jones jumped 199 points to 32,619 while the S&P 500 advanced 20 points to 3,910.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 is 476 points firmer at 29,206 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng is 497 points heavier at 28,397.

On the home front, UK retail sales data should show that volumes recovered in February.

“The consensus forecast for a 2.1% month-to-month rise in the official measure of retail sales volumes in February, released on Friday, is far too cautious. We look for a top-of-the-range 4.5% jump, reversing nearly half of January’s 8.2% decline,” said Pantheon’s chief UK economist, Samuel Tombs.

As for company results, Smiths Group PLC (LON:SMIN) is the main event.

Investors are likely to be eyeing trends across its four main divisions for any signs of increasing momentum.

Also in focus will be the dividend, with analysts having pencilled in a total payment for the current year of 40p per share, as well as the status of the firm’s planned spin-off of its medical division.

Around the markets

  • Sterling: US$1.3766, up 0.34 cents
  • 10-year gilt: 0.737%, up 2.19 basis points
  • Gold: US$1,725.70 an ounce, up 60 cents
  • Oil: US$62.68 a barrel, up 73 cents
  • Bitcoin: US$52,638, up US$549

6.50am: Early Markets – Asia / Australia

Stocks in the Asia-Pacific region were higher on Friday even as a stranded mega-container ship in the Suez Canal was holding up an estimated £7 billion of goods each day, according to shipping data.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong surged 1.53% while the Shanghai Composite in China rose 1.50%.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 gained 1.56% and South Korea’s Kospi rose 1.09%.

Shares in Australia climbed, with the S&P/ASX 200 closing 0.49% higher.

READ OUR ASX REPORT HERE

Proactive Australia news:

Creso Pharma Ltd (ASX:CPH) (FRA:1X8) has secured firm commitments from institutional, professional and sophisticated investors to raise up to A$18 million through the issue of around 94.7 million new fully paid ordinary shares at A$0.19 per share.

Australian Strategic Materials Ltd (ASX:ASM) (OTCMKTS:ASMMF) shares have headed upwards on news the company plans to boost its balance sheet with a A$65 million placement and up to A$41 million entitlement offer.

Paradigm Biopharmaceuticals Ltd (ASX:PAR) has made the first major submission for its planned Pivotal study in subjects with pain associated with Knee Osteoarthritis (OA) by submitting an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers Ltd (ASX:KPT) has hit a milestone in the harvest and marketing of its fire-damaged pine logs with 300 cubic metres loaded on a barge at Kingscote wharf to be shipped to a customer in South Korea.

Bass Metals Limited (ASX:BSM) (FRA:R2F) has signed a binding term sheet to acquire Blackearth SA, which holds an option to acquire the San Jorge Lithium Project in Argentina subject to a 30-day due diligence period.

Emyria Ltd (ASX:EMD) is poised for growth in 2021, with the expansion of its clinical service subsidiary Emerald Clinics, clinical trial planning underway and a strong financial outlook to pursue drug registrations.

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