FTSE LIVE: Bluechip updates buoy Footsie; Apple and Facebook soothe tech nerves

By This Is Money Reporters

12.45: Strength in Anglo American and AstraZeneca was the main focus on the Footsie leader board at lunchtime after updates from the two markets heavyweights pleased investors, while tech stocks benefitted from better news from the US.

By mid session, the FTSE 100 Index was 37.6 points higher at 6,712.4 as the top flight continued its recovery from recent volatility to stand at a six-week high.

Mining giant Anglo American topped the FTSE 100 risers, up 38.0p to 1,585.0p after its first quarter update showed an 18 per cent year-on-year rise in copper production.

Drugs up: Solid first quarter results lifted AstraZeneca shares higher although the firm made no comment on recent Pfizer bid speculation

Drugs up: Solid first quarter results lifted AstraZeneca shares higher although the firm made no comment on recent Pfizer bid speculation

The better-than-expected performance gave a boost to other stocks in the sector, with Rio Tinto up 38.0p to 3,287.0p and Antofagasta ahead 1.0p to 797.5p, with the sector also helped by a rise in key metals prices, which were underpinned by strong seasonal demand in top consumer  China and supply concerns.

AstraZeneca’s shares continued to surge after speculation last weekend linked it to a possible takeover approach from US firm Pfizer.

The company was silent on the bid interest today but the stock still rose another 5 per cent or 199p to 4,241.5p as it confirmed it will advance four drugs in oncology and respiratory disease for late-stage testing.

Revenues for the quarter were up 3 per cent at constant exchange rates as Astra said it was on track to meet its financial guidance for this year.

Other big risers included fellow pharmaceuticals company Shire – another long time mooted bid target –  which climbed 94.0p to 3,283.0p.

It was also a positive session for airline stocks as low-cost carrier easyJet improved 46.0p to 1,732.0p and British Airways owner International Airlines Group lifted 10.3p to 417.6p helped by positive broker comment.

Morgan Stanley raised its target price on easyJet to 1,855p from 1,830p and reiterated an overweight rating on the stock in an airline sector review.

Blue chip chip designer ARM Holdings rallied following falls yesterday after a disappointing trading update, adding 6.0p at 962.0p after US tech giants Apple and Facebook posted strong results late on Wednesday, boosting their shares in New York after-hours trading.

Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG said: ‘Last night’s figures from the tech sector will have encouraged investors that had begun to flee the sector in the momentum panic of several weeks ago.’

Among other UK tech stocks, mid cap chipmaker Imagination Technologies added 14.4p at 198.2p. and Laird, which supplies components to Apple and Samsung, gained 5.0p to 292.5p.

Barclays shares were also closely watched in a session when shareholders voiced their displeasure at last year’s increase in its bonus pool, at a time of lower profits and following a sharp reduction in its dividend since 2008.

Ahead of the bank’s AGM today, chief executive Antony Jenkins also reported that pressure on its investment banking business had continued, with a significant decline in fixed income trading compared with a year ago. Shares were 2.6p higher at 251.5p despite the update.

Consumer goods firm Unilever was the biggest blue chip faller, down 38p to 2,596p after it reported slower growth in emerging markets, albeit with a rise of 6.6 per cent in revenues against 8.4 per cent for the previous quarter, impacted by unfavourable currency movements.

10.00: The Footsie pushed higher as the morning session progressed, recovering from falls yesterday with quarterly updates from blue chip heavyweights Anglo American and AstraZeneca well received by investors.

By mid-morning, the FTSE 100 index was 37.2 points higher at 6,711.9, with the positive mood also seen after US technology companies Apple and Facebook delivered better-than-expected updates after Wall Street hours last night.

Mining giant Anglo American was at the top of the UK blue chip risers board, ahead 3 per cent or 52.5p at 1,599.5p after an update for the first quarter noted an 18 per cent year-on-year rise in copper production.

Copper up: Global miner Anglo American was the top Footsie gainer after strong production numbers

Copper up: Global miner Anglo American was the top Footsie gainer after strong production numbers

AstraZeneca continued to make progress after speculation last weekend linked it to a possible takeover approach from US firm Pfizer.

The company was silent on the bid interest today but shares still rose another 89p to 4132p as it confirmed it will advance four drugs in oncology and respiratory disease for late-stage testing.

Revenues for the quarter were up 3 per cent at constant exchange rates as Astra said it was on track to meet its financial guidance for this year.

But not all the corporate news was encouraging today.

Consumer goods firm Unilever was the biggest faller in the top flight, 41p lower at 2,593p  after it reported slower growth in emerging markets, albeit with a rise of 6.6 per cent in underlying revenues. Overall turnover decreased 6.3 per cent due to a negative currency impact of 8.9 per cent.

Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers said: ‘Unilever is echoing the tough environment outlined by rival P&G yesterday.

‘The strong euro is providing a stiff currency headwind for the group’s targeted emerging markets, while political difficulties in Russia have as expected proved unhelpful.

‘The timing of Easter has impacted on US food sales, margarine appears to remain broadly out of favour with consumers, whilst ongoing investigations by a number of national competition authorities provide a further point of concern.

‘In all, with consumers in many of the group’s markets pressured by currency movements and wage growth which remains below inflation, branded consumer goods are, for now, a tough place to be,’ Bowman said.

08.30: The FTSE 100 has opened 23.6 points higher at 6,698.4 as strong results from US tech giants Apple and Facebook help to boost sentiment this side of the Atlantic.

Apple jumped 7 per cent in after-hours trading on Wall Street following the announcement of another $ 30billion in share buybacks and an 8 per cent increase in its quarterly dividend to $ 3.29 per share.

It has also authorised a seven-for-one stock split – increasing the number of shares available, but adjusting the price down so the market capitalisation will remain unchanged. Such actions usually broaden a stock’s appeal to ordinary investors.

Trading trends: Strong results from US giants Apple and Facebook help to boost investor sentiment after a recent bout of nerves about the tech sector

Trading trends: Strong results from US giants Apple and Facebook help to boost investor sentiment after a recent bout of nerves about the tech sector

Shares in Facebook rose 3 per cent as the firm said its mobile advertising business accelerated in the first three months of the year, helping it beat forecasts.

About a quarter of US S&P 500 companies have reported results so far in the current earnings season, of which 72 per cent posted in-line or forecast-beating earnings, with profits up 2.8 per cent overall, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data.

In Europe, about 10 percent of STOXX 600 companies have reported results so far, with 54 per cent of them posting in-line or forecast-beating results.

The FTSE 100 closed down 7.02 points at 6,674.74 yesterday.

Brent crude futures have risen, holding above $ 109 per barrel for a fifth straight session, as a vow by top oil producer Russia to respond if its interests in Ukraine came under attack stoked supply worries.

London copper futures rose to near two-week highs, underpinned by strong seasonal demand in top consumer China.

Stocks to watch today include:

UNILEVER: The consumer goods maker reported higher first-quarter underlying sales, despite a later Easter holiday that pushed some food sales into the second quarter.

ANGLO AMERICAN: The miner posted an increase in its copper and iron ore production in the first quarter of 2014, but its platinum output slumped, hit by a strike at its South African operations.

ASTRAZENECA: The company highlighted progress with a new generation of cancer drugs that may revive its fortunes as it posted a 17 per cent fall in core earnings per share, reflecting patent losses on profitable older medicines.

TRAVIS PERKINS:The company said its first quarter like-for-like sales grew by 12.7 per cent.
 

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