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UK shares inch higher; HSBC, AstraZeneca cap gains

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Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London, Britain
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By Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S

(Reuters) - British shares ended higher on Thursday as firmer commodity prices boosted mining and energy stocks, while HSBC traded ex-dividend and AstraZeneca sank on doubts over its COVID-19 vaccine.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index ended up 0.2%, with mining stocks including Rio Tinto, Anglo American and BHP Group gaining between 1.8% and 4.6%.[MET/L]

Oil heavyweights BP and Royal Dutch Shell were also among the biggest boosts to the FTSE 100, as crude prices rose. [O/R]

HSBC Holdings, which traded ex-dividend, was the worst performer in the index, while AstraZeneca fell 2.5% after health authorities in Italy, Denmark and Norway temporarily suspended the use of the drugmaker's COVID-19 vaccines on reports of blood clots and death.

Benign U.S. inflation data had taken some recent pressure off stocks, with Wall Street indexes hitting record highs. But investors see overheated inflation as a long shot in the UK, given the severe economic slowdown from COVID-19. [.N]

"We're not convinced that we're going to get strong inflation this year because the economy is still too weak," said Andrea Cicione, head of strategy at TS Lombard.

"There's still a huge output gap that needs to be filled and the economy is working below potential, that simply aren't the conditions for inflation to fully develop, that's more of a story for 2022 and beyond"

Still, the FTSE's recovery run from pandemic lows has somewhat stalled this year as sectors apart from financials came under pressure from high bond yields. Weak local economic readings have also weighed on sentiment.

The slow start to 2021 for Britain's housing market stretched into February, before finance minister Rishi Sunak announced new measures that could revive a property boom that began after the first lockdown last year, a survey showed.

The domestically focused mid-cap FTSE 250 index rose 0.6%, led by industrials stocks.

IG Group rose 4.9% on a jump in third-quarter revenue despite a tough comparative a year ago, driven by high trading during the period that saw a retail frenzy in financial markets.

(Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Shailesh Kuber)