LONDON MARKETS: FTSE 100 Lifted As Unilever Advances, With ECB Meeting In Focus

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Retail sales on deck; EasyJet shares in the red

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U.K. stocks moved higher on Thursday, with Ben & Jerry's ice cream maker Unilever PLC gaining after its earnings report, one of a stream of financial releases.

A report on British retail sales and an update from the European Central Bank due later could provide cues for investors.

The FTSE 100 index rose 0.3% to 7,451.90, with only the basic materials sector losing ground. A win Thursday would be the blue-chip market's second in a row after it advanced 0.6% on Wednesday. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ftse-100-slips-as-miners-sag-but-deal-lifts-reckitt-benckiser-shares-2017-07-19)

Earnings season: More corporate results were rolling in Thursday. Unilever shares (ULVR.LN) picked up 1% after the maker of Lipton tea and Alberto Balsam hair care products said first-half net profit rose to 3.11 billion euros ($3.58 billion) and that margins should be better than previously expected over the full year. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-posts-profit-gain-lifts-margin-guidance-2017-07-20)

Anglo American PLC (AAL.LN) was up 0.5% as the miner raised this year's production guidance for its Kumba Iron Ore business in South Africa, and posted an 8% increase in copper equivalent production (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/anglo-american-ups-kumba-iron-ore-output-guidance-2017-07-20) in the second quarter.

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But shares of EasyJet PLC (EZJ.LN) were dragged down 4.4% even as the budget airline said unit revenue turned positive (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/easyjet-quarterly-unit-revenue-turns-positive-2017-07-20) in the third quarter after a period of sharp declines. EasyJet is currently searching for a new chief executive as Carolyn McCall plans to leave to run broadcaster ITV (ITV.LN) .

Off the main benchmark, shares of Sports Direct International PLC (SPD.LN) climbed 5.2%, pushing past the sports-equipment retailer's report that a slide in the pound drove down fiscal 2017 pretax profit. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sports-direct-profit-hit-by-brexit-battered-pound-2017-07-20)

(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sports-direct-profit-hit-by-brexit-battered-pound-2017-07-20)Moneysupermarket.com Group PLC shares (MONY.LN) tumbled 9.4% as the comparison website warned adjusted operating profit will be at the lower end of market consensus for the full year. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/moneysupermarketcom-warns-on-yearly-profit-2017-07-20)

Sterling and ECB: Meanwhile, the pound pulled back to $1.299 from $1.3025 late Wednesday in New York. A stronger pound can put pressure on shares of export-focused multinational companies that pull in revenue from overseas.

Investors will be watching for a report on U.K. retail sales for June will be released at 9:30 a.m. London time, or 4:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Economists estimate sales grew 2.6% year-over-year, according to a FactSet survey.

Check out:Why there is a 'massive' opportunity in British leisure stocks (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-there-is-a-massive-opportunity-in-british-leisure-stocks-2017-07-19)

Investors will also tune into what the European Central Bank may say about monetary policy when it releases its statement at 12:45 p.m. London time, or 7:45 a.m. Eastern Time. ECB President Mario Draghi will speak to the press at 1:30 p.m. London time.

"While we're not expecting any changes from the ECB today, its EUR60 billion-a-month asset program expires at the end of the year, and traders are looking for clues regarding what comes next," said Craig Erlam, Oanda's senior market analyst, in a note.

"An announcement on this is unlikely until September when it releases its new macro-economic projections but Mario Draghi may offer some insight into what we can expect during the press conference," he said.

Investors have used proceeds from sales in bonds to the ECB to buy other assets, including U.K. equities.

Read:Why Mario Draghi can't back down from ECB taper hints (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-mario-draghi-cant-back-down-from-ecb-taper-hints-2017-07-19)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 20, 2017 04:07 ET (08:07 GMT)