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What to watch: Stocks rise, housebuilders lead gains, M&S Brexit warning

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Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·4-min read
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Barratt results saw its shares soar. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Barratt results saw its shares soar. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

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

Stocks keep rising on Democrat stimulus and vaccine hopes

Stock markets continued to rally on Friday, as investors welcomed the prospect of more US fiscal stimulus and vaccine rollouts.

The prospect of Democrat control of both houses of Congress boosts the chances of a larger spending package, welcomed by investors who largely shrugged off Trump supporters’ assault on the Capitol.

US futures were trading higher on all three main indices, after stocks hit a record high on Wall Street on Thursday. S&P (ES=F) and Dow (YM=F) futures were up 0.5% as the European trading day began, while the Nasdaq (NQ=F) gained 0.4%, ahead of payrolls data later on Friday.

Leading European indices also leapt at the open, with Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) gaining 1% in Frankfurt and the CAC 40 (^FCHI) up 0.9% in Paris. The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) gained 0.3%.

It comes after stocks on MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan hit a record high during the trading day overnight, ending 1.6% higher. Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) also hit a record high, and closed up 2.4%.

Housebuilders gain on Barratt results and house price record highs

Housebuilder Barratt (BDEV.L) led gains on the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) index in London on Friday, surging 3.8%.

Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) was the second biggest riser, up 3.3%, while Persimmon (PSN.L) and Berkeley (BKG.L) were also among the 10 biggest gainers.

It came after Barratt revealed it sold more than 9,000 homes in the first half of the year on the back of the stamp duty holiday. The company said completions over the six-month period to 31 December were up 9.2%, with forward sales up 14.3%.

It also came after lender Halifax’ house price data showed property prices rising 0.2% in December month-to-month. Prices are 6% higher than a year ago, with the average transaction price in December £253,374 ($343,917) – marking a fresh record high.

But it marked a six-month low for price inflation, with signs of momentum cooling in Britain’s housing boom.

Marks & Spencer warns of 'significant' impact from Brexit deal

Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) has said the UK’s new free trade agreement with the EU will “significantly” impact its business in Ireland and franchises in the EU.

M&S on Friday said its business in Ireland and the Czech Republic and franchises in France would suffer due to tariffs on goods exported to the EU and “very complex administrative processes.” The company said it was “actively working to mitigate” the impact.

The warning comes a day after Debenhams took the decision to shut its Irish website due to the impact of the trade deal. John Lewis has also stopped serving Ireland.

M&S’s warning on the impact came as the retailer reported what it called “robust” trading over Christmas.

Total sales fell 3.6% in December and were down 8.2% across the third quarter. Sales were dragged down by Mark & Spencer’s clothing and homeware division, which slumped by 25% in its third quarter.

WATCH: First victim of Brexit? France’s M&S ready meals

UK hiring increases for first time since September

UK hiring began to tick upwards in December, with a renewed rise in permanent placements, according to the latest KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs survey.

Increased market activity and COVID-19 vaccine hopes led some companies to press on with hiring plans at the end of 2020, the report found.

December saw the first increase in permanent staff appointments since September. Although the growth was only slight, it signals greater confidence among business chiefs as permanent hires are generally seen as a sign of greater employer confidence in their prospects.

Hiring of temporary staff also rose at the sharpest pace for over two years, as companies tended towards short-term staff due to lingering uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit.

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 'effective' against new COVID-19 strains

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) appears to be “effective" against the new COVID-19 strains, a study has found.

According to a laboratory study conducted by Pfizer the vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the virus, discovered in the UK and South Africa.

The positive news from the not-yet peer reviewed study comes as UK battles with soaring coronavirus cases and deaths, fuelled by the highly infectious new mutation.