Banks hoist FTSE 100 higher after Chinese data

— Adds commentary on US markets —

US benchmarks have opened higher after US trade figures revealed a deficit that was not as bad as feared.

The Dow Jones is up 68 at 14,012, the SP 500 is up 7 at 1,517 and the NASDAQ Composite is up 27 at 3,192.

The US trade deficit in December narrowed to a seasonally adjusted US$38.5bn, its lowest level since January 2010 and a better than expected outcome, thanks in no small part to record petroleum exports.

Wall Street traders enduring blizzard conditions in New York were warmed by results from computer games publisher Activision Blizzard. The “World of Warcraft” publisher’s fourth quarter figures were better than expected and prompted ratings upgrades from Macquarie Capital and Sterne Agee.

Online operators Linkedin and AOL were also wanted after their figures pleased the market.

Going the other way was Coinstar, which operates DVD rental kiosks, after its first quarter earning’s guidance failed to thrill. After the bell last night Coinstar said it expects earnings per share to fall between 77 and 92 cents.

In the UK, stocks received an additional lift from Wall Street’s firm start, with the blue-chip index heading to a new high for the day of 6,278 before retreating a little. It is now up 45 at 6,273.

Prior to Wall Street’s confident start, UK shares were already going well on the back of positive data from China.

The emerging superpower’s exports and imports rose more than analysts had anticipated in January, showing signs of a global economic recovery.

That news had investors chasing the shares of engineering firms GKN (+3.5%) and Weir Group (+2.7%) higher, while miners such as Anglo American, up 1.6%, and ENRC, up 1.1%, also made headway. The latter was named by Credit Suisse as one of its top picks in the mining sector, as was Rio Tinto, up 0.5%.

Randgold Resources, though, slipped to the foot of the top flight, down 1.8%, while another precious metals miner, Fresnillo, was also out of favour, down 0.2%.

Aggreko (LON:AGK) powered 2.3% ahead after an upgrade from HSBC analysts this morning. Chilean miner Antofagasta (LON:ANTO) rose 0.9% on an upgrade from the same broker.

On the mid cap index, (LON:BP.Y) flew up 18% on the news that New Jersey could be relaxing its online gambling laws.

The American state’s governor Chris Christie said that he is willing to allow online gambling as long as certain conditions are met.

Christie said he would back a 10-year trial for online betting in New Jersey to help struggling casinos in the gambling mecca of Atlantic City.

The news saw investors go all in on gambling stocks, with 888 Holdings (LON:888) up 15%, gambling software designer Playtech (LON:PTEC) up 7% and sports betting company Sportech (LON:SPO), up 6%.

Investors decided William Hill (LON:WMH) and Betfair (LON:BET) were also worth a punt, pushing the shares 1.5% and 2.5% higher, respectively.

Credit Suisse meanwhile piled more pressure on embattled platinum miner Lonmin (LON:LMI) today with a downgrade to ‘neutral’ that sent shares tumbling 1.6%.

The small cap charge was led by Forte Energy and TomCo Energy, which rose 19% and 10% respectively, closely followed by Hayward Tyler – formerly Specialist Energy Group – whose shares powered up 13%.

African low-cost airline Fastjet (LON:FJET) gained altitude, rising 7% after it said forward bookings for February are running ahead of expectation.

A number of junior oil stocks put on a spurt today.

Sefton Resources (LON:SER) shares rose 2% when it revealed it has established oil production in north-east Kansas, while Trap Oil (LON:TRAP) acquired a third of the Trent East Terrace Area (TET), which contains the Trent East gas discovery, prompting a 1.8% share price uplift.

Magnolia Petroleum (LON:MAGP) meanwhile edged 1.6% higher after the Marathon Oil-operated Helgeson 41-30H well, in which it has a 5.5% working interest, was spudded on Monday.

New World Oil Gas (LON:NEW) joined the oil rush, with a 3% rise after CEO Bill Kelleher reaffirmed his excitement about the prospects for finding oil in Belize in a conference call with investors.

The AIM All-Share index is up 4 at 746.

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