FTSE 100 closes higher ahead of US Fed decision; drugs titans shine

The UK's premier share index finished ahead by 24.52 points at 7,330, having been lower earlier

GlaxoSmithKline PLC -
FTSE 100 closed to the good ahead of the US central bank decision
  • FTSE 100 closes up 24 pts

  • Pharma giants gain

  • Wall Street shares mixed

5.10pm: FTSE 100 closes up

FTSE 100 index closed higher as traders continue to mull Brexit and its ramifications and ahead of the US Federal Reserve rate decision expected in the next few hours, where a  cut is widely anticipated.

The UK's premier share index finished ahead by 24.52 points at 7,330, having been lower earlier.

The index was boosted by drugs giants, with Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC (LON:RB.), AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN), GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK) all in the top five risers. The latter posted strong third quarter earnings, while Astra inked a US$239 million deal to sell its anti-psychotic drug Seroquel.

Meanwhile, the more UK plc focused FTSE 250 went the other way, shedding 53.23 points to close at 20,115.10.

In the US, stocks were mixed, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 23.11 points, but the S&P 500 near flat and the tech heavy Nasdaq index off around 12 points.

"The US central bank is widely expected to cut rates by 0.25%, which would be the third rate cut in four months. Some aspects of the US economy like manufacturing as well as services have underperformed recently, but another rate cut seems excessive seeing as the economy hasn’t digested the previous two cuts yet," reckons David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets.

4pm: FTSE ahead

Its been yawns all round on this pre-Fed Wed, so let's look ahead to two later events Stateside: Apple earnings and the Fed.

While Apple's fourth quarter is rarely its most important, the report does include the important guidance on the coming key festive quarter, with Wall Street analysts having been consistently upgrading expectations for the stock over the past quarter.

The Street is looking for Q4 earnings per share of $2.84, down from the $2.91 a year ago, on revenues of $62.9bn, flat on last year's record top line. 

Market analyst Neil Wilson at Markets.com says investors should watch out for guidance for the 2020 fiscal first quarter.

"This is pivotal to our understanding of how well Apple thinks the iPhone 11 is doing – there is only 10 days of iPhone sales included in the Q4 release.

"The recent strong performance of the stock reflects increased confidence in the iPhone 11 as well as growing hopes for next year’s expected 5G phone.

"The iPhone 11 has done way better than expected before its launch. We’ll get a first glimpse of iPhone 11 sales in Q4 – the market is expecting Apple to sound bullish on demand for the forthcoming holiday quarter."

On the Fed decision, which is due around 6.15pm London time, the expected quarter-point rate cut would take the Fed funds rate down to the 1.50%-1.25% range.

“The Committee considered these changes in monetary policy as ‘insurance cuts’ in order to prevent the materialization of the downside risks to the economic outlook,” said Rabobank's Fed watcher, Philip Marey.

He said the Fed “is concerned about weak global growth, trade policy uncertainty and muted inflation", with the previous meeting suggesting the hurdle for another such cut was high and the 'dot plot' implied no further rate cuts this year.

"However, the economic data released since that meeting indicate that the weakness in the manufacturing sector is spreading to the services sector, employment growth and even consumer spending.

He said, therefore, that "the probability of an October cut has risen again", even though the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low and GDP is growing around 2%.

Rabobank thinks Powell may also reiterate that any further market intervention on the part of the Fed will be done solely to ensure the smooth operation of the financial infrastructure, after the Fed intervened in the repo market in September in an effort to ensure liquidity remained available for short term funding.

3.10pm: Stocks becalmed ahead of Fed meeting

US stocks have opened tentatively despite stronger than expected jobs and GDP data, as investors await the central bank policy decision later.

The Dow Jones was barely moved after a more than an hour of trading, down less than a point at 27,070.99, while the S&P 500 hovers not far off recent record highs and the Nasdaq Composite is equally becalmed.

General Electric Co (NYSE:GE) stock was sparked up after the conglomerate beat expectations for third-quarter profits.

US-Italian carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) was dropping down a gear as investors seemed unenthused by reports that management are holding merger talks with Peugeot’s owner PSA Group.

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) shares were down 1% to US$187.43 ahead of its earnings report that’s due after market close.

The social media giant has agreed to pay a £500,000 fine in the UK over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which is hardly a dent in its numbers, with analysts expecting US$17bn of revenue and adjusted earnings per share of US$2.11 for the third quarter.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) also has Q4 numbers due later, its least interesting operationally but with the important guidance on the next quarter’s expected iPhone sales.  

Meanwhile, London's main equity index is hovering around positive territory, up six points at 7,312, while the pound is back to flat at 1.2870. 

"Equities are edging lower this afternoon as some traders square up their positions ahead of the Fed meeting," said David Madden at CMC Markets.

The central bank is widely expected to cut rates by 0.25% for the third rate time in four months, with traders believing there is a 94% chance of such a cut.

"Some aspects of the US economy like manufacturing as well as services have underperformed recently, but another rate cut seems excessive seeing as the economy hasn’t digested the previous two cuts yet," he said, though he noted that unemployment is at a 50-year low.

Looking at European stocks, Madden said after the positive run on the back of the Brexit deal, some profit taking was in effect.

1.55pm: Market movers

Delving around the mid-cap and small-cap stocks, there are some sharper share price moves today.

Synectics PLC (LON:SNX) shares are down 18% to 146.4p after the security and surveillance software specialist issued a major profit warning due to Boris Johnson, in a way.

Progress at its core business has been “more than offset” by continued weakness from sales into the UK transport sector, with the bankruptcy of a bus manufacturer customer, thought to be 'Boris bus' maker Wrightbus, and a major fall in new bus registrations in the UK.

And just like proverbial buses, the profit warnings were coming together, something investors at De La Rue PLC (LON:DLAR) are used to.

Shares in the banknote and passport printer are down 19% to 150.55p after it warned that its full-year profit will be “significantly lower” than expected, with the main reason not explicitly given but likely to be new chief executive Clive Vacher resetting expectations.

Staffing group Empresaria Group plc (LON:EMR) was down 7% to 46.97p after delivering an un-empressive update as Brexit uncertainty and the German auto industry slowdown are going to drag full-year profits down more than expected.

The company, which gets around a third of its business from the UK, cautioned that the impact of Brexit has increased in the second half of the year and the postponement of Brexit would lead to “further months of related uncertainty”.

Going the right way, colostomy bag maker ConvaTec Group PLC (LON:CTEC) was the biggest mid-cap jumper of the day, up 13% to a 52-week high of 211.6p on the day.

This was thanks to an encouraging quarterly update for all parts of the business that led analysts at Numis to hike their target price to 220p and flag “blue sky” potential of 300p was “beginning to look more reasonable based on improving performance across the group”.

1.10pm: Footsie inches higher, US data provides "reality check"

Global markets don’t seem to be reacting much to anything today, with participants sitting on their hands ahead of the Federal Reserve pronouncements later in the day.

Data has just emerged on US gross domestic product and jobs growth, with both better than expected.

US GDP grew 1.9% in the third quarter compared to last year, down from 2.0% growth in the second but well above the 1.6% expected.

Personal consumption continued to be the driver, up 2.9% versus the estimated 2.6%, though down from the previous 4.6%.

Core PCE was up 2.2% quarter on quarter, in line with forecasts and up from the prior 1.9%.

Market analyst Naeem Aslam at Think Markets said “it is time for investors to have a reality check” as the data showed the Fed does not need to cut rates. 

“The ultra easing monetary policy is simply off the table. Basically, there is no need for the Fed to have a dovish rate cut and that is if the fed is going to have that,” he said.

The ADP job report, which comes as an amuse-bouche ahead of the big non-farm payrolls number on Friday, showed an increase of 125,000 private sector jobs in October, above the consensus estimate of 110,000.

Paul Ashworth, chief US watcher at Capital Economics, said the “disappointing” number “confirms that there has been a significant slowdown in jobs growth over the past few months, and does not include the 50,000 striking workers at GM.

“Assuming that downward trend in employment and activity growth continues, we expect the Fed to cut interest rates both today and in December, even if the Fed tries to downplay expectations of the latter in the FOMC statement due later today.”

Futures markets are pointing to flat start for Wall Street, with the Dow Jones seen rising just eight points to 27,051.

Back in Blighty, the FTSE 100 is in positive territory, up five whole points at 7,311.69.

GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK) has provided an extra boost as strong third quarter and upgrade to full-year earnings guidance sends the shares to their highest levels in 17 years, up 2% to 1,772.15p.

READ: GlaxoSmithKline shares close to 17-year high as it upgrades full-year earnings forecasts

Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC (LON:RB.), where some of its brands overlap with Glaxo's consumer healthcare products, was the second higher riser in London, up 2% to 5,958.5p, while AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) is in the top 10.

Standard Chartered remains top of the leaderboard however, after its own quarterly update earlier, with analysts at Shore Capital "pleasantly surprised" by the strength of the performance, saying in such a difficult operating environment this "is no mean feat". 

"Despite a cautious outlook, we remain positive on Standard Chartered’s shares reflecting consensus forecasts that still appear too conservative and a somewhat depressed valuation," ShoreCap said, recommending clients switch out of HSBC Holdings (LON:HSBA) in favour of its rival.

11.20am: £70bn negative impact of Brexit

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal will dent the UK economy to the tune of £70bn compared to remaining in the European Union, according to calculations by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

The thinktank, which is funded by the EU, estimated that in 10 years’ time Britain’s economy would be 3.5% smaller under the PM’s plan than if it stayed in the EU.

NIESR calculated that the deal agreed by the Prime Minister will make GDP 3% smaller each year than it would if Britain remained part of the bloc.

Where the prevailing uncertainty continues and Britain keeps the economic benefit of unrestricted access to EU markets but without any long-term guarantees - the economy would be 2% smaller, according to the NIESR forecast.

NIESR reckoned that Theresa May’s deal would have limited the fallout to around 3.0%, while a no-deal Brexit would shrink the economy by 5.6% compared to remaining in the bloc.

"In a sense, the stasis the PM so desperately wishes to end may indeed be the far better alternative (at least economically) for all involved," said analysts at Rabobank.

10.55am: FTSE flattens out as analysts look for election winners

While there has not been a big effect on blue-chip stocks from the confirmation of the festive general election, City analysts are delving into the possible economic outcomes and significance for certain sectors.

For the retail sector, analysts at Peel Hunt said their view is that the 12 December election date is “not a bad one”.

“Black Friday may be slightly affected by pre-match nerves, but a clear outcome may be enough to give the sector a fillip into Christmas and the key big ticket selling period.”

Elsewhere, broker Shore Capital advised clients to take profits from housebuilding shares, with the sector having recently undergone “wild gyrations” as optimism grew that a no-deal Brexit had been avoided, that Brexit will deliver a “substantial economic dividend” and that a November budget would see Stamp Duty slashed to “set the housing market alight”.

“Now, however, we have replaced what appeared to be confidence with fresh doubt and uncertainty and…we believe that uncertainty is a killer for the housing market.”

Over at Liberum, analysts noted that history as a guide would point to the housing market slowing in the run-up to the election, “but if the opinion polls and bookmakers are correct, the housebuilders shares could outperform if a Conservative victory is the outcome”.

Liberum expressing a belief that smaller housebuilders would benefit more from improved risk appetite and that their valuations are more attractive, picking out MJ Gleeson Plc (LON:GLE), which saw its shares rise 5% to 828p by mid-morning. Persimmon PLC (LON:PSN) was the broker's the preferred large cap builder, though its shares were down 1% to 2,300p.

But while opinion polls suggest the Conservative Party will win an outright majority, UBS’s investment gurus said, “we would caution about making predictions with any certainty at this stage”.

“The 2017 election serves as a good reminder that much can change when the campaigns begin in earnest,” the economists and strategists of the bank’s chief investment office said.

They maintained their bullish medium- to long-term view on sterling versus the US dollar and expecting a range of $1.26–$1.32 for the pound “until the next phase of political uncertainty concludes”.

Also looking at currency effects, Joshua Mahoney at IG Group said a possible resurgence for Nigel Farage would knock the pound back down as he envisions a “fraught” campaign “that will rip up the traditional political heartlands” as Brexit concerns dominate.

“A no-deal Brexit may only represent the stance of the Brexit Party, yet traders will be well aware that the Conservatives could ultimately require their help to form a government should we see a hung parliament.

“Nigel Farage has bided his time, but his renewed efforts to undermine Johnson’s deal could drag the pound lower as traders see the flow of Brexit votes move back towards the hardline Brexit Party.”

9.45am: Pound "not freaked out" by general election

The Footsie is continuing to grind along just below the waterline in morning trading at 7,291.5 while the pound is equally becalmed.

"The fact sterling hasn’t freaked out suggests the currency is hoping for increased political clarity heading into 2020, a result that would give one party a workable majority and allow the Commons to avoid the repeated Brexit deadlock that has become the norm post-referendum," said Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell.

"Yet if the last few UK votes are anything to go by, that hope might be a bit naïve."

Similarly, Russ Mould at AJ Bell noted that pressing the button for a general election “has had no impact on the UK stock market, perhaps because it was widely expected to happen". 

Financial and healthcare stocks are most in demand, while miners and retailer are out of favour.

The more UK-focused FTSE 250 index is down 44 points at 20,123, with engineers Hunting PLC (LON:HTG) and Wood Group PLC (LON:WG.) the sharper fallers along with retailers such as Marks & Spencer (LON:MKS) and Sports Direct International Plc (LON:SPD).

8.40am: Subdued start for stocks; StanChart up, Next down

The FTSE 100 nudged 13 points lower to 7,293.03 as the market factored in the significance of a December general election ("meh", it seems) and prepared for the US Federal Reserve’s monthly interest rate call ("much more interesting" in the market's view).

The central bank looks set to pull the pin on a 0.25% cut to the base rate, according to Fed fund futures, which have priced in a 97% chance of this happening.

Sentiment going forward will depend on the accompanying commentary from chair Jerome Powell.

“The Fed lowered rates in June as well as September, but that hasn’t been enough for President Trump or the markets,” said David Madden, analyst at CMC Markets.

“The US unemployment rate is at a fifty-year low, plus average earnings are comfortably outstripping inflation, so workers are getting an increase in real wages, so it seems strange the US central bank are potentially going to cut rates again.

“In recent months, the Fed have talked about adjusting their policy in accordance with the data. Manufacturing as well as services have slowed down but three rate cuts in four months seems excessive.

“Regardless of the rate decision, the press conference will be closely watched.”

Returning to London, Standard Chartered (LON:STAN) was among the morning’s big Footsie gainers, rising 2% after its quarterly numbers passed muster.

Next (LON:NEXT) was the biggest blue-chip loser as profit-takers used a solid trading update to book some of the hard-won gains of the last five months. The shares were down 1.9% (Read more on the Next update here.)

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6.30am: Flat start predicted 

Election date sorted and it is back to matters more mundane with traders expected to keep their powder dry ahead of the monthly meeting of the US Federal Reserve.

The Fed future suggests there is a 97% chance the central bank will cut base rates by 0.25% to a target range of 1.5%-1.75%.

“The sweet blend of better-than-expected third-quarter earnings and the progress in trade negotiations with China suggests an increased likelihood of a hawkish Fed statement,” Ipek Ozkardeskaya, of London Capital Group, giving his take on what to expect in the Fed minutes.

“But growth and employment data due before the Fed’s decision announcement could be a gamechanger in how investors hear Jay Powell’s policy message.

“The US gross domestic product may have eased to 1.6% in the third quarter, from 2.0% printed earlier.”

Wall Street closed a touch lower, while a bout of nerves left Asia’s main markets in negative territory.

In London, the spread betting firms are predicting the FTSE 100 will open flat at 7,306.26.

Turning to corporate news, there are third quarter trading statements from GlaxoSmithKline (LON:GSK), Next (LON:NXT) and Standard Chartered (LON:STAN).

Around the markets: Pound worth US$1.2868 (up marginally); gold worth US$1,490.30 an ounce, down 40 cents; Brent crude US$61.35 a barrel, down 23 cents

Wednesday’s main corporate and economic news

Finals: Leaf Clean Energy Company PLC (LON:LEAF)

Trading statement: Computacenter plc (LON:CCC), ConvaTec Group PLC (LON:CTEC), GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK), Next PLC (LON:NXT), Smurfit Kappa Group plc (LON:SKG), Standard Chartered PLC (LON:STAN)

AGMs: ANGLE PLC (LON:AGL), Ashoka India Equity Investment Trust PLC (LON:AIE), Frontier Developments PLC (LON:FDEV), Goldplat PLC (LON:GDP), Hargreaves Services PLC (LON:HSP), Ideagen plc (LON:IDEA), Pantheon International PLC (LON:PIN), Redde Plc (LON:REDD), Sensyne Health PLC (LON:SENS)

Economic announcements: US Federal Reserve policy decision, BRC Shop Price Index, Nationwide House Price Index, US GDP, US PCE prices, US ADP employment

Business Headlines 

Financial Times

  • AT&T’s video streaming service to cost more than rivals’
  • Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot parent PSA in merger talks
  • WhatsApp hack led to targeting of 100 activists


  • I didn’t query 737 safety fears, Boeing boss admits
  • Aramco set to launch float on Sunday
  • Deloitte partner fined over Serco audit misconduct

Daily Telegraph

  • US opioid crisis could spark multi-billion pound legal battles for UK insurers
  • Advent ready to offer Cobham guarantees as UK decision looms
  • Canaccord Genuity sued over film scheme losses


  • 'Flying coffins': senators rip Boeing chief over Max jet crashes that killed 346
  • M&S launches 'buy now, pay later' service

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