LONDON MARKET MIDDAY: Risk-Off Mood As Weak UK Services Adds To Worry

LONDON (Alliance News) - London stocks slid on Wednesday as risk-off sentiment replaced the more ...

Alliance News 5 December, 2018 | 12:12PM
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LONDON (Alliance News) - London stocks slid on Wednesday as risk-off sentiment replaced the more upbeat mood at start of the week, with markets in the US and Asia slumping overnight amid global trade and economic growth concerns.

Meanwhile, buyers of the pound weren't fazed by disappointing data on the UK's crucial services industry, which suggested that Brexit anxiety has weighed on business activity and sentiment in November.

"Given the scale of the sell-off in the US, many would have expected a very bleak day for European markets. But with the US out of the picture today, things are quieter. Besides, the FTSE and others had not joined in the big rally last week following Jerome Powell's speech, held back by a stronger pound and euro as the dollar dropped," said IG chief market analyst Chris Beauchamp.

He added: "However, indices on this side of the Atlantic are now back to the lows of November – while this might hold, the outlook does not look particularly encouraging."

The FTSE 100 index at midday was down 81.57 points, or 1.2%, at 6,941.19. The FTSE 250, however, was up 0.1%, or 17.88 points, at 18,347.52. The AIM All-Share was 0.9% lower at 913.63.

The Cboe UK 100 was down 1.3% at 11,778.28, while the Cboe UK 250 was up 0.2% at 16,415.02. The Cboe UK Small Companies was down 0.6% at 11,333.37.

In mainland Europe at midday, the CAC 40 index in Paris and the DAX 30 in Frankfurt were down 0.9% and 0.8%, respectively.

Markets in the US are closed on Wednesday for the funeral of former US President George HW Bush.

The pound was broadly unchanged at USD1.2742 compared to USD1.2732 late Tuesday despite the weak print on the UK's dominant services sector.

The closely watched IHS Markit/CIPS UK services Purchasing Managers' Index showed a reading of 50.4 in November, falling dangerously close to the no-change mark of 50 after October's level of 52.2. The PMI figure had been expected to be unchanged from October.

November saw the worst performance since July 2016, when business sagged following the result of the referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Excluding July 2016, it was also the worst performance since February 2013.

The survey suggests that Brexit anxiety has weighed on business activity and sentiment with companies more risk averse when making spending and investment plans following reports that Britain could crash out of the EU with no deal.

"The bottom line is that fourth quarter growth is likely to be noticeably lower than in the third, and as we noted on Monday, we have our doubts that this will be heavily offset by pre-Brexit inventory building. While recent Bank of England commentary has made it clear that policymakers would like to resume tightening fairly soon given the stronger wage growth backdrop, we don't expect a rate hike before May 2019 – with a clear risk that this could be pushed back later into 2019," commented James Smith, developed markets economist at ING.

Meanwhile, Markit's composite PMI for the eurozone fell to 52.7 in November from October's 53.1.

In other data from the currency bloc, eurozone retail sales grew in October after decreasing in the previous month. Retail sales grew 0.3% from September, when they fell 0.5%, after the stagnation reported earlier was revised. Economists had forecast a 0.2% increase for October.

Among the fallers in the FTSE 100 on Wednesday was rental equipment firm Ashtead, down 4.4% as investors fretted over a possible slowdown in US economic growth.

Of Ashtead's GBP3.71 billion in revenue generated in the financial year ended April 30, US unit Sunbelt contributed a whopping GBP3.10 billion, or 84%.

"The firm, which was (and arguably remains) such a good way to play US economic growth, is the first port of call when worries about said growth are dominating minds. But with Monday's ISM manufacturing PMI near the highs for a decade, perhaps investors are overly concerned," commented IG's Beauchamp.

Hargreaves Lansdown was down 4.0% after Morgan Stanley late Tuesday downgraded the fund supermarket to Underweight from Equal Weight. GlaxoSmithKline also was knocked by a broker's opinion, falling 3.3% after Barclays cut the pharma giant to Equal Weight from Overweight.

Meanwhile, fellow drugmaker Shire was up 2.7% after after Takeda Pharmaceutical shareholders approved the acquisition of the Irish drugmaker.

The acquisition remains subject to approval by Shire shareholders at a meeting expected to be held later Wednesday, and it is expected that completion of the acquisition will take place on January 8.

In the FTSE 250, Stagecoach was among the best performers as it gained 11% on a set of better-than-expected interim results, despite swinging to a loss.

Adjusted pretax profit fell to GBP87.0 million in the half-year to October 27 from GBP96.7 million a year before, as the company swung to a statutory pretax loss of GBP22.6 million from a GBP96.7 million profit reported for the same period a year earlier.

Operating profit for UK Rail was highlighted as being ahead of forecasts, despite profit for the unit falling 47% to GBP11.5 million from GBP21.7 million a year ago. The company said the fall reflected the expiry of the South West Trains franchise.

"The group is focused on making further progress in the second half of the year and we have increased our expectation of full-year adjusted earnings per share to reflect the above-forecast rail earnings in the first half of the year," said Chief Executive Martin Griffiths.

Thomas Cook was the top gainer in the FTSE 250, shares jumping 36% as the travel agent moves on from a miserable time last week.

Thomas Cook issued a profit warning on Tuesday last week just days before the release of its annual results as it also suspended the payment of a final dividend.

The company also looks set to be ejected from the FTSE 250 in the quarterly index review, the results of which will be released after the market close on Wednesday.

Among other possible index changes, Royal Mail is facing demotion from the FTSE 100 to be replaced by insurer Hiscox. Aston Martin and Funding Circle are among the stocks up for membership in the FTSE 250.

Despite Thomas Cook's significant gain on Wednesday, the stock remains 74% lower since the start of 2018.

By Lucy Heming; lucyheming@alliancenews.com

Copyright 2018 Alliance News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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Securities Mentioned in Article
Security Name Price Change (%) Morningstar
Rating
Hargreaves Lansdown PLC 1,814.00 GBX -0.96 -
Shire PLC 4,530.00 GBX -3.06
Stagecoach Group PLC 142.50 GBX -1.72 -
Thomas Cook Group PLC 27.30 GBX -4.68 -
GlaxoSmithKline PLC 1,467.60 GBX -0.84
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