London stocks flat as life insurance losses offset retailers’ gains

By Shubham Batra

(Reuters) -UK stocks were flat on Wednesday as gains in Marks & Spencer were offset by losses in life insurers, while investors await comments from Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on the path for interest rates.

Both the benchmark FTSE 100 and the midcap FTSE 250 index were trading flat at 0918 GMT.

Marks & Spencer jumped 10% after it reported a better-than-expected 75% rise in first-half profit but cautioned that high borrowing costs and erratic weather may soon weigh on shoppers.

The results lifted retailers by 1.8% to the top of the charts.

Separately, a report from Adobe Analytics said UK’s online sales in the Christmas trading season are expected to rise 2.7% from a year earlier despite ongoing cost of living pressures.

The life insurance sector, however, dropped 1.6%, set to log its worst day in three weeks.

Shares in RS Group slid 1.6% to touch their lowest level since May 2020 after the electronics products distributor posted a 25% fall in half-year adjusted pretax profit.

ITV fell 6.2%, set for its biggest one-day drop in 10 months, as the broadcaster said lower demand from free-to-air broadcasters for its content would impact its studios business in the fourth quarter.

Investors will closely monitor comments from Bailey later in the day at an Irish central bank conference as well as from Powell, starting from 9:15 a.m. ET (1415 GMT), for clues on where rates are headed.

“They (central banks) still want to keep their options open on hikes if inflationary pressures reemerge, but I think they’ll also want to tell markets that the previous hikes they’ve done are clearly slowing inflation right now,” said Patrick Armstrong, chief investment officer at Plurimi Wealth.

Meanwhile, a survey showed that the decline in hiring by British employers eased slightly in October, but pay growth slowed and rising redundancies led to an increase in the number of job seekers.

(Reporting by Shubham Batra in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Sonia Cheema)