TOP NEWS SUMMARY: UK House Prices Rise In December - Halifax

LONDON (Alliance News) - The following is a summary of top news stories ...

Alliance News 8 January, 2019 | 11:19AM
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LONDON (Alliance News) - The following is a summary of top news stories Tuesday.
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COMPANIES
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Wm Morrison Supermarkets disappointed the market as its performance for the festive trading period missed analysts' expectations. For the 9 weeks to January 6, Morrisons reported 3.6% growth in group like-for-like sales excluding fuel, with retail sales inching 0.6% higher and wholesale rising 3.0%. Like-for-like sales, including fuel, grew 3.4%. Total sales in the nine weeks - which includes the key Christmas period - increased by 4.0% excluding fuel and 3.8% including it. A year ago, in an update covering the 10 weeks to January 7, 2018, Morrisons reported 2.8% growth in same store sales, excluding fuel. The retail arm contributed 2.1% to sales in the period, significantly higher that 0.6% recorded this year. Morrisons, the first of the big UK supermarkets to report on its festive performance, retained its full-year expectations. A company-compiled consensus based on 11 analysts forecast Morrison to have seen retail like-for-like sales up 0.5% and group like-for-like sales up 4.1% in the holiday period, meaning the retailer fell slightly short of analysts' expectations.
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UK supermarkets achieved record sales growth during the Christmas period, painting a "rosier picture" compared to their high street counterparts, according to the latest Kantar Worldpanel grocery market survey. The research agency - reporting market share figures for the 12 weeks to December 30 - said that overall UK grocers achieved GBP29.3 billion in sales during the festive season up 1.6% on the prior year, with consumers spending an extra GBP450 million on groceries compared to a year ago. Among the big four supermarkets, Walmart-owned Asda, which is in the process of merging with J Sainsbury to create a new UK market leader, came on top with overall year-on-year sales growth of 0.7% due to online sales increasing by 12%. Its market share however shed 0.1 percentage point to 15.2%. Tesco experienced sales growth of 0.6%. Its market share now stands at 27.8%, down 0.3 percentage point compared to last year. Sainsbury's sales fell 0.4% with its market share slipping by 0.3 percentage point to 16.2% from 16.5% a year ago.
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Greene King reported sales growth in its financial year to date, boosted by a strong trading over the festive season with record Christmas day sales. For the 36 weeks to January 6, the FTSE 250 company reported like-for-like sales up 3.2%. Just in the two weeks covering Christmas and the New Year, Greene King said like-for-like sales were up 11%, with GBP7.7 million achieved just on Christmas day, a "record" according to the firm. Pub Partners like-for-like net profit was down 1.0% in the period, while total beer volumes in Brewing & Brands were up 1.8% and own-brewed volumes were down 2.3%. Greene King said it remains on track to dispose of 100 to 110 pubs during the financial year as part of a cost reduction programme. It plans to open nine new pubs in the same period.
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National Grid said it has reached a satisfactory agreement over employment terms and conditions with two unions representing workers of the company's Massachusetts Gas business. The agreement for 1,250 employees is for a five-and-a-half years, according to the company. The employees, who were locked out since June 2018 due to pay and benefit disputes, are set to join back on January 21. National Grid, during the employment contract negotiation, implemented a work contingency plan to ensure that customers continued to receive a reliable service. It didn't provide any specific details regarding its settlement pact with the gas workers.
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MARKETS
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London shares were higher with investors hopeful a trade deal can be reached as talks between the US and China continue. The pound was flat against the dollar despite positive UK house price data. Wall Street was pointed to a higher open.
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FTSE 100: up 0.6% at 6,849.67
FTSE 250: up 0.8% at 18,124.08
AIM ALL-SHARE: flat at 887.51

GBP: flat at USD1.2757 (USD1.2755)
EUR: down at USD1.1448 (USD1.1460)

GOLD: down at USD1,283.07 per ounce (USD1,287.40)
OIL (Brent): flat at USD58.24 a barrel (USD58.18)

(changes since previous London equities close)
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ECONOMICS AND GENERAL
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UK house prices returned to growth in December after November's fall, the latest Halifax house price index showed. On a monthly basis, house prices increased by 2.2% in December following a 1.2% reduction in November. Prices in the three months to December were 1.3% higher than the same period a year ago, faster than the 0.3% growth recorded in November. House prices in the fourth quarter of 2018, however, were 0.4% lower than in the third quarter. The average house price is now GBP229,729, Halifax added. Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at EY Item Club, described Halifax's figures as a "major surprise". He said: "It is notable that December's monthly increase of 2.2% followed a drop of 1.2% in November."
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Eurozone's economic sentiment decreased more-than-expected in December to its lowest level since the start of 2017, survey data from the European Commission showed. The economic sentiment index dropped to 107.3 from 109.5 in November. Economists had predicted a score of 108.2. The latest reading was the lowest since January 2017, when it was at the same level. Eurozone economic sentiment has weakened steadily since December 2017.
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Germany's industrial production decreased for a third straight month in November, defying expectations for an increase, amid a sharp fall in consumer goods and energy output, preliminary data from the Federal Statistical Office showed. On a year-on-year basis, industrial production fell 4.7% in November after a 0.5% gain in October. Economists were looking for a 0.8% decline.
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Police will be handed extra powers to combat drones after the mass disruption at Gatwick Airport in the run-up to Christmas. Gatwick was repeatedly forced to close between December 19 and 21 due to reported drone sightings, affecting around 1,000 flights. In response the government has announced a package of measures which include plans to give police the power to land, seize and search drones. The Home Office will also begin to test and evaluate the use of counter-drone technology at airports and prisons. The exclusion zone around airports will be extended to approximately a 5 kilometre radius, with additional extensions from runway ends.
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US President Donald Trump is planning a live address to the nation and a visit to the Mexico border to highlight his demands for a border wall as pressure grows over a partial government shutdown. With no breakthrough in sight to end the shutdown, newly empowered House Democrats — and at least a few Republican senators — are stepping up pressure on the president and Republican legislators to reopen the government. Trump said he would discuss the "Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border" on Tuesday evening. He maintains that more than USD5 billion for a wall is necessary to secure the border.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping that could help set the stage for a second US-North Korea summit, state broadcaster CGTN reported. A special North Korean train carrying Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, arrived at a Beijing railway station amid tight security around 10:55 am local time, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Kim will be in Beijing until Thursday, according to Chinese media. This is his fourth visit to China and is being held amid speculation that Kim and US President Trump are discussing a new summit focused on ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
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