London midday: Stocks sag despite better retail sales data
London stocks were still a touch weaker by midday on Thursday, with better-than-expected retail sales figures failing to provide a boost as traders were in holiday mode ahead of the long Easter weekend.
The FTSE 100 was down 0.1% at 7,463.25, while the pound was off 0.3% against the dollar at 1.3011 and 0.1% firmer versus the euro at 1.1560.
Upbeat data from the Office for National Statistics went virtually unnoticed. It showed UK retail sales unexpectedly rose in March, boosted by mild weather and despite the looming Brexit deadline.
Retail sales were up 1.1% on the month compared to a revised 0.6% increase the month before and expectations of a 0.3% decline.
On the year, meanwhile, retail sales surged 6.7% in March following a 4% rise the month before. This was ahead of expectations for a 4.6% jump and marked the highest since October 2016. The ONS said milder weather this year helped to boost sales in comparison to last year, when they were dented by the impact of the ‘Beast from the East’.
Rhian Murphy, the ONS's head of retail sales said: "Retail sales increased in the three months to March, following sustained growth throughout the first three months of the year. March’s mild weather boosted sales, with food shops also recovering after a weak February.
"Over the longer term, department stores were the only shop type to see their sales shrink."
Economists at ING said it was worth treating these latest figures with a touch of caution.
"Easter falls later this year, which might typically be associated with lower sales during March relative to other years. Similar data from the British Retail Consortium also suggested that spending was more muted during March, aside from some increased purchases related to Mother’s Day. The latest surge in retail spending also comes at a time where consumer confidence is around the lowest it has been since 2013," said analyst James Smith.
Meanwhile, Ranko Berich, head of market analysis at Monex Europe, said: "The lack of market reaction to the news highlights the extent to which Brexit is still the only story in town for sterling."
In equity markets, BAE Systems was the top faller as it went ex-dividend along with Reckitt Benckiser, Aggreko, Bodycote, Capital & Counties, Centamin, Drax, Hastings, Hunting, Inmarsat, John Laing, KAZ Minerals, National Express, NewRiver REIT, Polypipe, Rathbone Brothers and Vesuvius.
On the upside, Unilever gained as it reported stronger-than-expected growth for the first quarter of the year, driven by emerging markets and with an encouraging balance between increases in volume and price.
Equipment rental firm Ashtead rallied following well-received results from US peer United Rentals, whose first-quarter earnings per share came in around 10% ahead of consensus overnight.
Rentokil was in the green as it reported a 4% rise in first-quarter organic revenue, driven by its pest control business and acquisitions.
Moneysupermarket racked up strong gains as it posted a 19% jump in first-quarter revenue thanks to a solid performance from its home services business, which saw revenues surge 70%.
Cybersecurity firm Avast was higher as it said first-quarter revenue rose 6.1% and reaffirmed its full-year outlook.
Industrial software maker Aveva rose as it reported low double-digit revenue growth for the full year as the final quarter continued the positive performance seen in the first nine months of the year.
Funding Circle gained as it posted a record level of loans under management during the first quarter.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Unilever (ULVR) 4,516.50p 3.16%
Ashtead Group (AHT) 2,199.00p 2.61%
CRH (CRH) 2,615.00p 2.07%
Rentokil Initial (RTO) 374.50p 1.74%
Fresnillo (FRES) 776.40p 1.49%
Experian (EXPN) 2,191.00p 1.44%
Auto Trader Group (AUTO) 552.00p 0.99%
Croda International (CRDA) 5,072.44p 0.96%
Rightmove (RMV) 545.00p 0.87%
Ocado Group (OCDO) 1,410.50p 0.75%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
BAE Systems (BA.) 494.20p -3.33%
Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) 258.80p -1.71%
Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK) 1,676.50p -1.61%
International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (CDI) (IAG) 555.00p -1.25%
TUI AG Reg Shs (DI) (TUI) 842.20p -1.22%
Standard Chartered (STAN) 665.00p -1.16%
Antofagasta (ANTO) 1,006.50p -1.13%
Smith & Nephew (SN.) 1,458.00p -0.98%
St James's Place (STJ) 1,110.50p -0.98%
Hiscox Limited (DI) (HSX) 1,638.00p -0.97%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Moneysupermarket.com Group (MONY) 376.20p 7.98%
Avast (AVST) 295.60p 4.01%
Mediclinic International (MDC) 340.30p 3.91%
Kier Group (KIE) 364.60p 3.46%
Indivior (INDV) 41.35p 3.19%
Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings (AML) 959.50p 2.60%
Aveva Group (AVV) 3,324.00p 2.47%
Funding Circle Holdings (FCH) 318.00p 2.42%
SIG (SHI) 148.90p 2.34%
Plus500 Ltd (DI) (PLUS) 516.80p 2.22%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Petrofac Ltd. (PFC) 493.20p -5.84%
Sirius Minerals (SXX) 20.36p -4.95%
Drax Group (DRX) 350.00p -4.79%
Hastings Group Holdings (HSTG) 220.80p -4.66%
Bodycote (BOY) 852.00p -3.51%
Ashmore Group (ASHM) 473.00p -3.07%
NewRiver REIT (NRR) 227.97p -2.99%
Vesuvius (VSVS) 616.50p -2.99%
Metro Bank (MTRO) 823.00p -2.83%
Saga (SAGA) 57.35p -2.80%