LONDON (ShareCast) – 1630: Close It was a strong finish for the FTSE today, despite retail sales showing a sharp drop for January, led by BAE Systems (LSE: BA.L – news) , ARM Holdings (LSE: ARM.L – news) and Vodafone. Macro (Shenzhen: 000533.SZ – news) wise, UK retail sales volumes slipped by 1.5 per cent month-on-month in January, according to the ONS, compared to the consensus estimate for a drop of 1.0 per cent. The ONS also announced that public sector net borrowing in Janaury totalled 4.7bn pounds, indicating a surplus. The FTSE 100 closed up 25.07 points at 6,838.06, marking a gain of 174.44 over the week.

1500: US existing home sales fell 5.1 per cent in January, to 4.62m, a bigger drop than had been predicted by consensus forecasts, at 4.1% to 4.67m.

1239: Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, has agreed to hold early elections, the BBC reports.

1101: The completion of Vodafone’s Verizon Wireless sale is set to prompt the largest capital return in corporate history and will have a drastic impact on volumes over the next few weeks, according to analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The bank said that ‘market volumes will be significantly affected by the re-investment of cash proceeds, the scale of flow-back in Verizon (NYSE: VZ – news) shares (both automatic and discretionary), and the rebalancing of index weightings (particularly the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250)’.

0949: Glencore Xstrata (Other OTC: GLCNF – news) is lower after JPMorgan downgraded its rating from ‘overweight’ to ‘neutral’, saying that its peers have overtaken it in terms of capital returns potential. InterContinental Hotels Group is also trading in the red after Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS – news) lowered its recommendation to ‘underperform’, pointing out that the shares are trading within just four per cent of their all-time high at a price-to-earnings ratio of 23. The FTSE 100 is up 29.81 at 6,842.80.

0918: UK retail sales volumes slipped by 1.5 per cent month-on-month in January, versus consensus estimates for a drop of 1.0 per cent. The public sector net borrowing requirement, excluding interventions, fell to 4.7bn pounds from -10.7bn pounds in the previous month (consensus: -8bn pounds).

0845: UK stocks have begun the day slightly higher ahead of the latest data on retail sales and public sector finances, courtesy of ONS. Smiths Group (Other OTC: SMGKF – news) has been downgraded to ‘sell’ from ‘neutral’ at UBS (Xetra: UB0BL6 – news) . RBS (LSE: RBS.L – news) is moving up the leaderboard after reports surfaced that it may announce 30,000 layoffs. Acting as a backdrop, investors are closely following the escalating violence in Ukraine. Shares of US technology heavyweight Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ – news) rose by 1 per cent overnight in ‘after-hours’ trading. This weekend’s meeting of G-20 leaders also looms large on the agenda. FTSE 100 up 31 to 6,844.