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What to watch: ECB decision, Biden lifts stocks, Pets at Home sales jump

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde, wearing face mask, attends the 16th Congress of Regions (Congres des Regions) in Saint-Ouen, north of Paris on October 19, 2020. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images)
European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde. Photo: Geoffroy Vab Der Hasselt/AFP via Getty

Here are some of the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

ECB meeting in focus

The latest policy decision by the European Central Bank (ECB) will be the focus of attention for many investors on Thursday.

“Market participants will be on the lookout for signs of concern about the pace of recovery in the Eurozone as lockdown restrictions drag on for longer than thought,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com.

“Clearly the picture has worsened since the ECB last met, but there is not a lot more Christine Lagarde and co can do for the real economy.”

He said the bank “doesn’t have much ammunition left” after expanding its pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) from €1.35tn (£1.19tn, $1.64tn) to €1.85tn and extending it to March 2022 at its last meeting.

The programme involves buying up private and public sector securities, in a bid to prop up lending and help EU economies “absorb the shock” of the pandemic-fuelled downturn.

Michael Hewson, chief analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: “No changes are expected today, but it has been apparent over the past 12 months that the ECB has shown it is prepared to shift policy when required in order to support the European economy.”

The Bank of Japan kept rates unchanged overnight.

Stocks higher as Biden term begins

European stocks rose and US markets looked set for new record highs on Thursday, as US president Joe Biden began his first full day in office.

Asian stocks hit a record high overnight, after the S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq all smashed records as Biden was sworn in and Democrats took control of the Senate on Wednesday.

Traders’ optimism grew over Biden’s $1.9bn (£1.4bn) stimulus plan, and they will have welcomed his speech on “bringing the country back together,” according to Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

European stocks opened higher. The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) rose 0.4%, the DAX (^GDAXI) gained 0.6%, and the CAC (^FCHI) was up 0.5%.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were up 0.3%, Dow futures (YM=F) up 0.2%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) 0.6% higher as trade began in Europe.

MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan also hit a record high on Thursday, adding 0.9%.

Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) gained 0.8%. The Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) rose 1.1%, and the Shenzen Component (399001.SZ) rose 2%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index (^HSI) dipped 0.2%, however.

COVID-19 pandemic pushes Pets at Home sales to £302m

Pets at Home (PETS.L) saw revenue growth of 18% in the 12 weeks to the end of December 2020, with sales rising to £302m ($413.7m).

Retail revenue increased by 17.5%, despite coronavirus-related restrictions being introduced both locally and nationally across the UK during the period.

The firm benefited from its designation as an “essential” retailer as its stores were able to remain open during lockdown restrictions, with in-store like-for-like sales growing by 12.3% “notwithstanding a second national lockdown in England across four weeks of the quarter,” according to the retailer.

“Trading momentum accelerated across the festive period,” according to the pet supplies retailer, as like-for-like sales grew by 17.6%.

WATCH: The economic impact of a Joe Biden presidency