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London stocks higher as coronavirus concerns ease

by Paul
FTSE 100

The FTSE 100 was up 1.02% at 7,457.02 while the pound was down 0.57% lower against the US dollar at 1.2926 and by 0.52% versus the euro to 1.1981 as risk appetite picked up and the US dollar continued to push higher

London stocks were firmly in the green on Wednesday as concerns about the coronavirus eased and investors mulled news that UK inflation hit a six-month high in January.

The FTSE 100 was up 1.02% at 7,457.02 while the pound was down 0.57% lower against the US dollar at 1.2926 and by 0.52% versus the euro to 1.1981 as risk appetite picked up and the US dollar continued to push higher.

That was despite the release of figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that consumer price inflation in the UK rose to 1.8% in January from 1.3% the month before.

Economists on average had expected inflation to pick up to 1.6% after falling to a three-year low in December.

The rise in inflation is largely the result of higher prices at the pump and airfares falling by less than a year ago. In addition, gas and electricity prices were unchanged this month, but fell this time last year due to the introduction of the energy price cap, the ONS’s head of inflation Mike Hardie said.

Core inflation rose to 1.6% from 1.4% and was also above the consensus figure of 1.5%.

Capital Economics said: “The rise in CPI inflation for the first time in six months in January was in line with the Bank of England’s expectations, so this is unlikely to move the dial on the outlook for interest rates.”

The ONS also reported that house prices rose across the UK for the first time in almost two years. London had its strongest growth since October 2017.

More broadly, investors were taking comfort from news that new cases of the coronavirus in China have fallen.

London Capital Group analyst Jasper Lawler said, a small decline in the number of coronavirus cases combined with a determination on behalf of the Chinese government to ward off the economic damage is seeing an uplift in market mood. We aren’t putting too much stock in the official China figures, which appear to paint a picture rather than reflect reality. But if Beijing ups stimulus measures then those economic effects are real.

In equity markets, Berkeley Group was the standout gainer as HSBC upped its rating on the stock to ‘buy’ and said it now has ‘buy’ ratings on all nine listed housebuilders under coverage. The decisive general election result has brought the prospect of a final settlement of Brexit closer and unleashed pent-up demand in housing activity that we are forecasting to induce a full year 2020 3% rise in UK-wide new home sales reservations, it said.

Centrica followed close behind after an upgrade at Investec, while hedge fund Man Group was boosted by an upgrade at Exane.

South America-focused miner Hochschild Mining rallied as it said higher precious metals prices helped it to double annual profits. The company said pre-tax profits rose to $76.8m from $38.4m on a 7% increase in revenue to $755.7m.

International Consolidated Airlines Group flew higher as Qatar Airways upped its stake in the British Airways and Iberia parent to 25.1% from 21.4%.

On the downside, shares of NMC Health slumped again after Czech shareholder and activist investor Krupa Global Investments (KGI) said it would not be taking a strategic stake in the UAE healthcare provider. KGI said that following the resignations of founder and non-executive chairman B.R. Shetty and vice chairman Khalifa Butti Omeir Bin Yousef, “the current situation” is not in line with its strategy to take a significant stake in NMC.

Plus500 fell as Canaccord Genuity recommended investors take advantage of recent share price strength and sell the stock.

Elsewhere, Royal Mail was weaker after Liberum reiterated its ‘sell’ recommendation on the stock and slashed the price target to 120p from 175p. It said that management openly questioning the achievability of its 2024 targets just nine months after its strategy launch is “hardly encouraging”.

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