Friday, Mar 09

U.K. blue-chip stocks ended higher Thursday, with analysts pinning the advance in part on dovish remarks from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Investors also awaited more details about potential U.S. tariffs on steel imports that analysts have said could stoke a global trade war, while also sifting through a round of corporate updates. The FTSE 100 index rose 0.6% to end at 7,203.24, building on Wednesday’s rise of 0.2%. The London benchmark has gained for four straight sessions. The pound bought $1.3816, down from $1.3903 late Wednesday in New York. The pan-European StoxxEurope 600 closed 1.1% higher at 376.62. The European Central Bank opted to leaveinterest rates unchanged, as expected, but also moved closer to ending its quantitative easing program, a key stimulus effort. The ECB dropped its commitment to ramp up asset purchases if the euro zone outlook deteriorates. The euro was briefly up against the pound following the statement, buying around 89.50 pence compared with 89.26 pence late Wednesday, but then it turned lower after Draghi’s remarks. It was recently changing hands at 89.15 pence.
Analysts noted that Draghi emphasized dovish elements of the central bank’s latest statement, including a commitment to maintaining rates at present levels for an extended period eyond the end of asset purchases, as well as a continued commitment to potentially extending those purchases beyond September, if necessary Traders also were somewhat in wait-and-see mode as President Donald Trump was moving closer to signing an order to slap tariffs on steel and aluminumimports into the U.S. The Trump dministration has indicated Canada and Mexico may be exempt from the levies. The president was expected to make an announcement at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, or 8:30 p.m. London time, according to media reports. The European Union has said it’s preparing its own tariffs if Trump moves ahead with the levies. G4S fell 2.2%, with shares retreating from earlier gains made after the security and consulting services company declared a higher final dividend for the year and posted a rise in yearly pretaxprofit to £386 million ($536 million). 
Aviva PLC shares declined 0.2% as the insurer said profit in 2017 rose, and that it expects to return £500 million ($694.3 million) in excess cash to shareholders this year. Off the FTSE 100, Countrywide sank 1.6%, but was off session lows, after the estate agent scrapped its dividend, citing the booking of a huge impairment charge and a slide in earnings as reason for the move.