U.K. stocks logged a fresh record close on Thursday, with tobacco and mining companies boosted by a weaker pound during the session and a rise in metals prices.
Supermarkets, however, limited gains for the London benchmark after disappointing trading updates from retailers Tesco and Marks & Spencer covering the crucial Christmas sales period.
How markets performed
The FTSE 100 index /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.31% added 0.2% end at 7,762.94, taking out the record close of 7,748.51 set on Wednesday.
The pound /zigman2/quotes/210561263/realtime/sampled GBPUSD -0.4103% bought $1.3540 after trading as low as $1.3458.
What drove markets
While other global markets have taken a breather from their recent rally, the FTSE has continued to keep a toehold in record-setting territory. On Thursday, the action in London was focused on sectoral moves.
Miners helped lift the benchmark on Thursday, as copper prices gained for a second straight day and inched closer to a four-year high.
Heavyweight tobacco companies also lent a helping hand, getting a boost from the drop in the pound during the day. Tobacco companies generate the majority of their sales outside the U.K., so weaker sterling lifts their earnings when translated back into the U.K. currency.
But the pound was eventually pushed back above $1.35, “lifted in the wake of the ECB minutes – as the U.S. dollar sold-off,” after minutes of the ECB’s December meeting suggested it may take a more hawkish stance on monetary policy in 2018, CMC Markets noted.
Shares of Marks & Spencer Group PLC /zigman2/quotes/206225481/delayed UK:MKS -2.38% /zigman2/quotes/205629926/composite MAKSY +0.87% slid 7%, after the retailer and supermarket chain said like-for-like total U.K. sales declined 1.4% in the 13 weeks to Christmas. Like-for-like food sales fell 0.4%, while clothing and home sales dropped 2.8%.
“There is no repackaging these figures as anything short of very disappointing. Food is the worry — it’s been the easy win for M&S for years but suffered a 0.4% like-for-like decline,” said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital, in a note.
In the same vein, Tesco PLC /zigman2/quotes/203761082/delayed UK:TSCO +2.14% lost 4.5%. The company, Britain’s largest supermarket chain, said it’s confident in its outlook for fiscal 2018 after like-for-like U.K. sales rose 1.9% during the Christmas period. However, the general merchandise business and slower tobacco sales dragged on total performance, leaving analysts overall disappointed.
“Looking at competitors such as Sainsbury and Morrison, both have beaten their forecast for Christmas trading. This doesn’t put Tesco in a strong position at all,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets, in a note.
Shares of British American Tobacco /zigman2/quotes/209116881/delayed UK:BATS +0.97% /zigman2/quotes/210207837/composite BTI +1.55% rose 1.7% and Imperial Brands PLC /zigman2/quotes/208789104/delayed UK:IMB +0.43% /zigman2/quotes/206232937/composite IMBBY +1.66% added 1.4%.
Among miners, shares of Anglo American PLC surged 3.5% /zigman2/quotes/201381512/delayed UK:AAL +0.92% , while BHP Billiton PLC /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP +0.49% /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -2.17% added 1.8%.
Shares of Barratt Developments PLC /zigman2/quotes/209812640/delayed UK:BDEV -0.78% was pushed down 2.7% even after the home builder said it had a strong performance in the first half of fiscal 2018.
On an upbeat note, distribution and outsourcing company Bunzl PLC /zigman2/quotes/201880362/delayed UK:BNZL -2.16% gained 2.2% after saying it is taking over U.S. workplace safety company Revco as well as U.K. catering equipment business Aggora Group. It also said it received a binding offer to sell its OPM business in France.