By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch
U.K. stocks closed higher Wednesday, rising for the first time in five sessions, but gains were held in check as the pound hit its highest level against the U.S. dollar in more than a month.
But the blue-chips index didn’t enjoy the strong leap seen across other European equity markets /zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed XX:SXXP -0.17% after the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.77% opened above 20,000 for the first time ever.
“In London, the focus has been on the currency rather than the stock market, with cable moving above $1.26 for the first time in over a month,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG, in note. Cable is the nickname for the pound-dollar pair.
The pound /zigman2/quotes/210561263/realtime/sampled GBPUSD +0.0243% hit an intraday high of $1.2621, according to FactSet, the first move above $1.26 since mid-December. Sterling climbed after Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said the government will publish a white paper on its strategy for the Brexit process. That could open the door for a deeper push by some lawmakers to object to May’s plan to take the U.K. out of the EU’s single market.
Pound strength can put pressure on profit made overseas by multinational companies, many of which are part of the FTSE 100.
The currency will be back in focus Friday with the first release of fourth-quarter gross domestic product data for the U.K. on Friday.
Banks: Shares of London-listed lenders did take part in a rally for European banks /zigman2/quotes/210599339/delayed XX:SX7P -0.04% on Wednesday. Those gains were spurred in part after higher fees and stronger-than-expected lending income helped Spanish heavyweight Banco Santander /zigman2/quotes/205677933/delayed ES:SAN +0.74% /zigman2/quotes/202859081/composite SAN 0.00% , the first major European bank to issue financial results in the new earnings season. Read: Why European bank earnings are set to cheer investors
In London, Royal Bank of Scotland PLC charged up 3.4%, Standard Chartered PLC /zigman2/quotes/200125072/delayed UK:STAN -3.45% tacked on 3.4% and Lloyds Banking Group /zigman2/quotes/202285510/delayed UK:LLOY +0.74% /zigman2/quotes/200709414/composite LYG -0.77% shares closed up 2.1%.
Barclays PLC /zigman2/quotes/208409333/delayed UK:BARC +0.47% /zigman2/quotes/206581728/composite BCS -0.32% ended 1% higher and HSBC PLC /zigman2/quotes/203901799/delayed UK:HSBA +0.25% /zigman2/quotes/208272822/composite HSBC -0.24% /zigman2/quotes/202687335/delayed HK:5 0.00% gained 0.7%.
Miners: But most mining shares flipped lower Wednesday as the “wheels look to be coming off the gold rally,” said Beauchamp. See: Gold drops as U.S. stock indexes trade in record territory
“Over the past few days the price has failed to break $1,220, and with risk appetite recovering across the board, the reasons to own gold are disappearing rapidly,” he said. “This spells bad news for the likes of Fresnillo and other precious metals miners, which have ramped up production over the past twelve months.”
Shares of Fresnillo PLC /zigman2/quotes/201300065/delayed UK:FRES -2.65% dropped 4.2% and Randgold Resources PLC lost 3.3%. Anglo American PLC /zigman2/quotes/201381512/delayed UK:AAL -1.03% gave up 1.8%.
But Antofagasta PLC /zigman2/quotes/200173667/delayed UK:ANTO -1.81% shares rose 4.1% after the metals producer said copper production in 2016 was 709,400 tons, 13% higher than a year earlier but slightly below expectations.
BHP Billiton /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -0.30% /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP +0.57% had been higher earlier as copper prices had gained on the prospect of tighter supply. BHP said Wednesday it expects to supply 1.62 million metric tons of copper during the year through June, which is 2% lower than its prior forecast. BHP shares eventually swung down to end 1.6% lower.
Other movers: WH Smith PLC /zigman2/quotes/201823422/delayed UK:SMWH +0.22% shares popped up 7% after the books and magazine seller said it expects group profit growth for the year ending Aug. 31 to be slightly ahead of plan.
In other developments, prosecutors in Italy are reportedly investigating the accounting scandal at BT PLC /zigman2/quotes/209006687/delayed UK:BT.A -1.46% . The telecommunications company on Tuesday warned of a bigger-than-expected £530 million ($661 million) write-down related to accounting malpractices. BT shares fell 0.2% Wednesday. The stock on Tuesday plunged 21%.
Twinings family heir: You’re brewing tea all wrong
Stephen Twining, a 10th-generation Twinings heir, and who drinks at least nine cups of tea a day, demonstrates the proper way to prepare the beverage.