London pre-open: Small gains expected on FTSE, tracking US higher



LONDON (ShareCast) - City sources predict the FTSE 100 (FTSE: ^FTSE - news) will open up 10 points from yesterday's close of 6,132, tracking gains seen in the US overnight.

US stocks delivered decent gains on Thursday, particularly the Dow Jones (DJI: ^DJI - news) , while the S&P 500 rose above its five-year high. For every stock that rose on the NYSE, one fell.

The gains were largely due to much better-than-expected unemployment and housing data, as well as some pleasing performances from several companies. No less important are the reports indicating that US House Republicans may propose a temporary increase in the federal debt ceiling so as to allow for time to negotiate on fiscal consolidation measures.

Also contributing to the upbeat mood was a successful Spanish debt auction which saw reasonably strong demand, a pattern which indicated that Eurozone concerns are easing, or so some say. Barclays Research is out with a note this morning to the effect that the worst is now over for Spain and the country will not be forced to ask for a bail-out.

On the cards today is the latest monthly UK retail sales announcement, which is expected to show growth over the Christmas period, following a less-than-impressive performance in November (Xetra: A0Z24E - news) last year, when sales were flat.

Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled his speech on EU membership so as to be able to deal with the ongoing hostage crisis in Algeria.

In UK company news, scheduled maintenance at one of EVRAZ's plants led to lower steel production in the group's fourth quarter, the company has announced. Consolidated crude steel production and gross output of steel products both fell by 6.0% compared with the third quarter, mainly due to the maintenance at EVRAZ ZSMK, the 3,000-hectare steel mill in the Siberia region.

United Utilities (LSE: UU.L - news) has said that its water division has accepted the revised `Section 13' licence modification proposals from water regulator Ofwat, which were published on December 21st. The company told investors it "considers that the revised licence amendments have reduced uncertainty", compared with the previous proposals issued on October 26th.

Swiss commodity trader Glencore and London-listed mining company Xstrata (Other OTC: XSRAF - news) will extend the long-stop date for their merger until March 15th, an announcement from Xstrata issued this morning has shown.

Amlin (LSE: AML.L - news) , the insurance and reinsurance firm, announced Friday that its Senior Independent Director, Nigel Buchanan, will step down from the board at the next annual general meeting (AGM) due to be held on May 16th 2013. Shonaid Jemmett-Page will be appointed Chairman of the Audit Committee in place of Nigel Buchanan at the same date. In addition, Buchanan has been approved as the Chairman of Amlin Underwriting, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amlin, with immediate effect.