London close: Stocks mixed after tsunami of corporate news
London stocks were in a mixed state by the close on Thursday, as investors digested a surprise jump in jobless claims across the pond, after a tsunami of corporate news earlier in the session.
The FTSE 100 ended the session up 0.16% at 7,563.25, having bobbed above and below the waterline through the day, while the FTSE 250 was down 0.38% at 22,958.48.
Sterling was similarly struggling for direction, last trading 0.12% stronger on the dollar at $1.3716, while it weakened 0.08% against the euro to €1.1966.
“Today we’ve taken a bit of a pause with the FTSE 100 and DAX both treading water for the most part, trading either side of the flat line, with the focus on more decent trading updates from the retail sector - although to look at the share price reaction, you’d have been forgiven for thinking they weren’t that great, though they could always have been better,” said CMC Markets chief market analyst Michael Hewson.
“It has in fact been a day of decent quarterly numbers for UK retail, not that you’d know it, with both Tesco and Marks and Spencer share prices slipping back, although this could simply be a case that expectations were perhaps a little bit too high leading into the numbers.
“There are concerns as we head into the final quarter, for both, that cost-of-living pressures might impact their fourth quarter numbers, heading into the spring.”
Across the Atlantic, claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly jumped in the United States seven days to 8 January, though they still remained low by historic standards and broadly in line with the pre-pandemic average of around 220,000.
According to the US Labor Department, initial jobless claims totalled 230,000 last week - well ahead of estimates for a print of 200,000 and the previous week's unrevised total of 207,000.
The four-week moving average, which levels out volatility in the numbers, came to 211,000, up 6,300 week-on-week, while continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline number, declined to 1.55m from the previous week's revised print of 1.75m.
“The jobless claims numbers are plagued by seasonal adjustment problems before, during and after the holiday season,” said Pantheon Macroeconomics' Ian Shepherdson.
“The speed of the drop in claims in November was flattered by favourable seasonals, and the payback is evident in the recent numbers.
“The seasonal issues will persist for another week or two, after which we expect claims to drop towards new cycle lows.”
Shepherdson said the trend was heading south, though not as quickly as the data late last fall appeared to suggest.
On home shores, the minimum isolation period in England for people who test positive for Covid-19 was to be cut to just five days, it emerged during the afternoon.
Health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that the length of time people needed to isolate following a positive result would be reduced from seven days to five from Monday.
From then, people would be able to test twice, on day five and day six, and if both tests were negative, they would be free to leave isolation on day six.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Javid said the UK was "leading the world in learning to live with Covid" and "with this in mind, we’ve been reviewing the isolation period".
He continued: "UK Health Security Agency data shows that around two thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five, and we want to use the testing capacity that we’ve built up to help these people leave isolation safely.”
In equity markets, Marks and Spencer Group tumbled 7.91% even after the food and clothing retailer said it expected annual profits of at least £500m after strong Christmas sales, driven by outperformance in its food range.
Fellow retailer Next also lost ground, ending the session 4.12% weaker.
Supermarket chain Tesco was down 0.87% despite lifting annual profits guidance after better-than-expected third-quarter and Christmas sales.
Countryside Properties plunged 20.64% after it announced the departure of its chief executive and said first-quarter trading had been below the board’s expectations.
Housebuilder Persimmon slipped 0.5% despite posting a jump in revenues, with peers Barratt Developments, Taylor Wimpey and Berkeley Group also lower by 0.03%, 1.51% and 1.67%, respectively.
On the upside, Wood Group rocketed 20.48% after the consulting and engineering company said it was selling its built environment division after a review and reported a fall in core profit.
BT Group was in the black by 2%, following reports it was close to agreeing the sale of its sports broadcasting arm to streaming firm Dazn in a deal worth an estimated $800m.
According to Reuters, citing four unnamed sources familiar with the matter, the sale of BT Sport to the US sports streaming specialist could be announced as early as February.
Elsewhere, Hays rallied 2.24% after the recruiter said full-year operating profit was set to come in ahead of market expectations following a record second-quarter quarter.
Shares of pub group Mitchells & Butlers fizzed 0.93% higher after a well-received trading update.
Doorstep lender Provident Financial gained 4.21% after saying it had traded above expectations in the fourth quarter and announced a restructuring of the Vanquis board.
IP Group was 3.1% stronger after it hailed "another highly successful year" and said group profit for 2021 was set to be above £425m, up from £185.4m in 2020.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Prudential (PRU) 1,337.00p 2.93%
International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (CDI) (IAG) 165.52p 2.72%
Barclays (BARC) 217.10p 2.50%
HSBC Holdings (HSBA) 513.00p 2.35%
Standard Chartered (STAN) 511.40p 2.16%
Imperial Brands (IMB) 1,695.50p 2.08%
BT Group (BT.A) 178.15p 2.00%
Royal Mail (RMG) 526.20p 1.86%
NATWEST GROUP PLC ORD 100P (NWG) 248.20p 1.80%
British American Tobacco (BATS) 2,974.00p 1.78%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
JD Sports Fashion (JD.) 197.95p -6.41%
Aveva Group (AVV) 2,987.00p -4.89%
Next (NXT) 7,672.00p -4.12%
Spirax-Sarco Engineering (SPX) 13,900.00p -4.10%
Halma (HLMA) 2,780.00p -3.91%
Dechra Pharmaceuticals (DPH) 4,290.00p -3.90%
Scottish Mortgage Inv Trust (SMT) 1,180.50p -3.20%
Rightmove (RMV) 725.60p -2.81%
Croda International (CRDA) 8,592.00p -2.76%
Intermediate Capital Group (ICP) 1,990.50p -2.64%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Wood Group (John) (WG.) 240.00p 20.48%
Provident Financial (PFG) 366.00p 4.21%
Carnival (CCL) 1,522.00p 4.15%
Direct Line Insurance Group (DLG) 305.90p 3.59%
IP Group (IPO) 113.20p 3.10%
Domino's Pizza Group (DOM) 436.80p 2.73%
RHI Magnesita N.V. (DI) (RHIM) 3,638.00p 2.65%
Beazley (BEZ) 485.00p 2.62%
Morgan Sindall Group (MGNS) 2,370.00p 2.60%
TUI AG Reg Shs (DI) (TUI) 259.20p 2.57%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Countryside Properties (CSP) 326.80p -20.64%
Marks & Spencer Group (MKS) 233.00p -7.91%
Games Workshop Group (GAW) 8,795.00p -5.28%
Genus (GNS) 4,200.00p -4.42%
Moonpig Group (MOON) 337.20p -4.04%
Chrysalis Investments Limited NPV (CHRY) 217.00p -3.56%
Diploma (DPLM) 2,986.00p -3.43%
Oxford Biomedica (OXB) 1,026.00p -3.39%
Kainos Group (KNOS) 1,605.00p -3.37%
Allianz Technology Trust (ATT) 314.50p -3.27%