LONDON (ShareCast) – 1630: Close The FTSE closed flat as traders digested UK unemployment data, minutes from the BoE (Shenzhen: 000725.SZ – news) ‘s most recent meeting, alongside data out from the US. UK unemployment rate rose to 7.2 per cent in the three months ended in December, while some 193,000 jobs were added in the period, well below the forecast for 250,000. Meanwhile, minutes from the February 5-6th BoE meeting showed that the MPC (KOSDAQ: 050540.KQ – news) voted unanimously to leave interest rates at their current record-low level. US housing starts fell 16 per cent to an annualised rate of 880,000 in January (consensus: 950,000). Morrison moved higher late in the session on the back of renewed buyout speculation. The index recovered from an intra-day low of around 6,760p to settle just 0.28 points above its opening price of 6,796.71.

1545: Morrisons is moving higher on reports that bankers are now working on arranging financing packages worth 5bn pounds for a potential buy-out of the firm. The news has also given a boost to shares of Tesco (Xetra: TCO.DE – news) . FTSE 100 down 5 to 6,791.

1446: “Man Group (Other OTC: MNGPF – news) is stepping up its search to acquire another asset management business in a bid to diversify revenues away from its 12.5bn dollar flagship managed futures fund AHL,” the Financial Times writes.

1330: US housing starts declined to an annualised rate of 880,000 in January (consensus: 950,000), although the previous month’s figures were revised up sharply. Producer prices advanced at a 0.2 per cent pace over that same month (consensus: 0.1 per cent). FTSE 100 down 26 to 6,771.

1100: Cable is little changed following today’s unemployment figures, off by just 0.02 per cent to 1.6679. Yields on 10-year Gilts are down by 4 basis points to 2.71 per cent.

1059: RBS (LSE: RBS.L – news) is highlighting reports in the FT that the Eurozone may move quicker on pooling resources for the single [bank] resolution fund. In the broker’s opinion, the amounts are still too small but the news is welcome.

1044: The FTSE 100 is now trading in the red after the surprise increase in UK unemployment. A number of heavyweight ex-div stocks are leading the downside on the blue-chip index, including Barclays (LSE: BARC.L – news) , AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN – news) , Reckitt, Carnival (LSE: CCL.L – news) and Glaxo. In contrast, retail stocks are performing well with Sports Direct (Frankfurt: A0MK5S – news) in the lead after reporting decent growth in third-quarter sales and profits. M&S is higher after Jefferies upgraded the stock to ‘buy’, hailing this week’s launch of the company’s new website and in-house e-commerce platform. M&S is one of the ‘cheapest in our sector, yet offers one of the highest total shareholder returns’, the broker said. The FTSE 100 is down 16.21 at 6,780.22.

0930: The UK’s unemployment rate rose unexpectedly by a tenth of a percentage point in the three months ended in December, to hit 7.2 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The claimant count decreased by 27,600 in January, versus a consensus forecast for a 20,000 person drop.

0845: UK stocks have begun the session moving slightly higher led by shares of Sports Direct following its latest quarterly update. BAE Systems (LSE: BA.L – news) is in second place after finalising the price escalation terms for the Eurofighter Typhoons already sold to Saudi Arabia. Astra Zeneca, Barclays and Reckitt Benckiser (Xetra: A0M1W6 – news) will all trade today without the rights to their latest dividends. Marks&Spencer has been upgraded to ‘buy’ over at Jefferies. FTSE 100 up 5 to 6,801.