2-1-18 4:20 AM EST | Email Article

By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch

Pound regains $1.42 level

U.K. stocks moved cautiously higher Thursday, lagging wider European equity markets. Losses for heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell and Vodafone after their earnings reports were clouding an otherwise upbeat trading mood.

Shares of house builders were among the advancers, after a report showed U.K. home prices rose more than expected in January.

What is the market doing?

The FTSE 100 index added 0.2% to 7,549.29, partly recovering from a 0.7% loss on Wednesday, when the London benchmark logged its biggest monthly decline since November (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uk-stocks-head-for-january-loss-as-capita-plunge-rattles-nerves-2018-01-31).

The pound moved higher to $1.4249, compared with $1.4191 late Wednesday in New York.

What is driving the market?

Most stocks on the FTSE traded in positive territory, keying off gains in the U.S. session on Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve struck an upbeat tone and said U.S. economic growth was solid.

However, losses for the some of the biggest U.K. companies kept gains for the FTSE in check.

Shares of heavily weighted Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) (RDSB.LN) fell 2%. That drop, the biggest loss on the FTSE 100 in early trade, came even after the oil giant's earnings tripled in 2017 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/shell-profit-triples-on-higher-oil-prices-2018-02-01) after "a year of transformation."

Brent oil prices -- the international benchmark -- moved up 18% last year, which helped boost Shell's earnings. However, analysts said the company's cash flows were weak in the fourth quarter, and that concern was holding back the energy giant's shares.

Shares of another London heavyweight, Vodafone PLC (VOD.LN) , lost 1.3% after mobile telecoms major said its revenue declined in the fiscal third quarter.

The stronger pound was also dragging on the London benchmark, as it cuts into earnings made by overseas companies when they convert their profits back into the U.K. currency. About 75% of the FTSE 100's revenue is generated outside Britain, so the index is particularly sensitive to sterling fluctuations.

In January, sterling scored its best month in almost eight years, boosted by Brexit optimism, a resilient U.K. economy and the hawkish tone of the Bank of England.

Check out: Ebullient pound scores its best month since 2009 -- but will the rally last? (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ebullient-pound-scores-its-best-month-since-2010-but-will-the-rally-last-2018-01-31)

Which other stocks are in focus?

Shares of Unilever PLC (ULVR.LN) (ULVR.LN) added 0.7% after the consumer products giant said 2017 profit was up 9% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-2017-profit-rises-9-2018-02-01) and that it expects further growth in 2018.

BHP Billiton PLC (BLT.LN) (BHP.AU) (BHP.AU) inched 0.4% higher after a Bloomberg report said the commodities major is considering splitting up its shale assets (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bhp-considers-shale-split-to-speed-sale-bloomberg-2018-02-01) to speed up the sale of a $10 billion portfolio.

3i Group PLC (III.LN) picked up 2% after the private equity and infrastructure investment company reported a 19.4% return on its assets for the nine months to December 31.

Shares of house builders also rose after the Nationwide house price index showed U.K. house prices picked up 0.6% in January (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uk-home-prices-rise-more-than-expected-2018-02-01), beating forecasts for a 0.2% climb. Shares of Barratt Developments PLC (BDEV.LN) added 0.6%, Taylor Wimpey PLC (TW.LN) put on 0.4%, and Persimmon PLC (PSN.LN) picked up 0.4%.

Outside the FTSE 100, shares of TalkTalk Telecom Group PLC (TALK.LN) gained 4% after RBC Capital Markets upgraded the company to outperform from sector perform.


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 01, 2018 04:20 ET (09:20 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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