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

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Retail sales rise; pound falls; 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.

Stocks remained higher after the release of a report on British retail sales, and ahead of the European Central Bank's policy statement, which could have implications for the pound.

The FTSE 100 index rose 0.6% to 7,473.47, with only the basic materials and tech sectors 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 0.5% 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 0.4% 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 4.9% 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.

"Despite an improvement in [the third quarter], the group still expects revenue per seat to decline by 2% across the second half as a whole and that suggests that the key summer period has been seeing some significant discounting," wrote Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Off the main benchmark, shares of Sports Direct International PLC (SPD.LN) climbed 7.2%, 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 6.1% as the price 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: The pound has bounced around during Thursday's session, coming off session lows after data showed U.K. retail sales rose 2.9% in June year-over-year, (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uk-retail-sales-rebounded-in-second-quarter-2017-07-20-44855431) above a FactSet estimate of 2.6%. Sales rose by 1.5% for the second quarter.

But the pound once again starting losing ground and traded at $1.2962, compared with an intraday high of $1.3033, and late Wednesday's settlement of $1.3025.

The FTSE 100 pushed higher as sterling fell. A stronger pound can put pressure on shares of export-focused multinational companies that pull in revenue from overseas.

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)

Meanwhile, the pound fell against the euro, buying EUR1.1264 compared with EUR1.1311 on Wednesday.

Investors will 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 06:18 ET (10:18 GMT)