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London pre-open: Stocks seen down as investors mull retail sales

By Michele Maatouk

Date: Friday 24 Mar 2023

London pre-open: Stocks seen down as investors mull retail sales

(Sharecast News) - London stocks were set to fall at the open on Friday despite an upbeat close in the US, as investors mulled the latest UK retail sales data.
The FTSE 100 was called to open 40 points lower at 7,459.

CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson said: "Equity markets on both sides of the Atlantic have experienced a great deal of chop this past few days as investors look for clues as to where we go next when it comes to an overall sense of direction.

"Over the past week, we've seen central banks raise rates again, however, there appears to be a sense that we may well have seen or be close to the peaks when it comes to the rate hiking cycle. This is being reflected in sharp declines in short-term yields, however, markets also appear to be pricing in the prospect of rate cuts this year. This seems somewhat premature and something that stock markets have yet to price.

"Despite the positive finish on Wall Street, European markets look set to lose out with a negative open, as US markets start to come back into favour."

Data released earlier by the Office for National Statistics showed that retail sales rose more than expected in February. Sales grew 1.2% on the month following an upwardly-revised 0.9% increase the month before. Analysts had been expecting a 0.2% increase.

Separately, a survey from GfK showed that consumer confidence nudged higher in March despite ongoing cost of living pressures.

The latest GfK consumer confidence index was -36, up two points on February and the third consecutive month it has strengthened.

Within that, expectations for the general economic situation over the next 12 months rose three points to -40, while the major purchase index increased by four to -33.

However, expectations for households' personal finance situation fell by three points to -21. It remains three points weaker than March 2022.

Joe Staton, client strategy director at GfK, said: "The small improvement in the overall index score masks continuing concerns among consumers about their personal financial situation. This measure best reflects the financial pulse of the nation, and it remains weak.

"Forecasts that headline inflation will fall this year have proved premature, wages are not keeping up with rising prices, and the cost of living crisis remains a stark reality for most.

"The recent budget will bring relief to come sections of the population, but for now, many people are simply looking to survive day-by-day."

In corporate news, pub chain JD Wetherspoon said sales for the last seven weeks were 14.9% higher than the same period last year as it swung to a half-year profit despite "ferocious" inflationary pressures.

The company posted a pre-tax profit of £4.6m for the 26 weeks to January 29, compared to a £26.1m loss in 2022.

"Having experienced a substantial improvement in sales and profits, compared to our most recent financial year, and with a strengthened balance sheet, compared both to last year and to the pre-pandemic period, the company is cautiously optimistic about further progress in the current financial year and in the years ahead," Wetherspoons said.

"Inflationary pressures in the pub industry, as many companies have said, have been ferocious, particularly in respect of energy, food and labour. The Bank of England, and other authorities, believe that inflation is on the wane, which will certainly be of great benefit, if correct."


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