London stocks rebound as investors parse results; AstraZeneca shines

By Shubham Batra and Johann M Cherian

(Reuters) – London listed stocks reversed early losses and closed up on Thursday as investors parsed corporate earnings, with healthcare giant AstraZeneca the biggest boost to the benchmark index after bumping up its annual profit forecast.

The multinational-heavy FTSE 100 ended 0.7% higher, while the mid-cap FTSE 250 index also rose 1.1%.

AstraZeneca added 2.6% as the drugmaker lifted its annual core profit forecast, buoyed by strong demand for its cancer drugs, and moved to boost its pipeline in the booming anti-obesity market with a deal costing up to $2 billion.

“While this might be perceived as an attempt to jump on the coattails of the likes of Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly in what has become a booming market, AstraZeneca has form for adding strings to its bow,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

Also aiding gains, Unilever advanced 2.1% after brokerage Barclays upgraded its rating on the consumer staples firm to “overweight”.

Auto Trader topped FTSE 100 gainers, jumping 8.5% as the online car marketplace forecast annual profit margins to increase from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Bank of England Chief Economist Huw Pill said the central bank expected monetary policy would need to remain restrictive for an extended period, but it could not make hard and fast promises on the outlook for interest rates.

Britain’s large-cap and mid-cap indexes are on course for weekly gains, helped by hopes of domestic interest rates peaking. However, optimism will be put to the test on Friday when investors will parse domestic economic growth data.

Keeping a lid on optimism was a 10.2% drop in Flutter after the online betting company said it expected full-year earnings, excluding the nascent U.S. market, at the bottom of its previous forecast range.

The travel and leisure sector housing the stock slid 3.8%.

Wizz Air nosedived 9.8% after narrowing its annual profit forecast, while Domino’s Pizza tumbled 6.9% after reporting a fall in meal deliveries in the third quarter.

(Reporting by Shubham Batra and Johann M Cherian in Bengaluru; Editing by Varun H K and Alex Richardson)