By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) — Shares of consumer-products giant Unilever PLC rose in an upbeat U.K. market on Wednesday after a well-received earnings report, with the latest unemployment data and Bank of England minutes also in investors’ focus.
The FTSE 100 index /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.51% added 0.3% at 6,197.64, closing at the highest level since May 2008.
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Unilever’s shares picked up 3.1% after the maker of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream /zigman2/quotes/205449809/delayed UK:ULVR -0.12% /zigman2/quotes/204685760/composite UL +0.18% reported a 5.4% increase in full-year profit and said fourth-quarter sales jumped 7.8%, beating analyst expectations. See: Unilever warns of 'intense competition'; profit up
Employment was also a focus point for the broader U.K. stock market, after the Office for National Statistics said the unemployment rate from September to November fell to 7.7%, off from 7.8% in the previous three-month period.
Bank of England minutes
Separately, minutes from the Bank of England’s latest policy-setting meeting showed the nine members voted unanimously to keep the key interest rate at a record-low 0.5%, while eight members wanted to keep the central bank’s asset-purchase program unchanged at 375 billion pounds ($593.7 billion).
“The welcome strength of the labor-market data will add to views among policy makers at the Bank of England that no further quantitative easing is warranted at present,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit,
The meeting minutes do “nothing to change the view that QE will be on hold unless perhaps both the GDP and PMI data show a marked deterioration in the economic-growth profile,” he wrote in a note.
Among other notable movers in London, shares of BHP Billiton PLC /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -2.18% /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -0.65% gained 1.4%, as the mining heavyweight said late Tuesday that iron-ore production for the final three months of 2012 rose 3%. See: BHP Billiton quarterly iron ore production up 3%
On a downbeat note in London, shares of Rio Tinto PLC /zigman2/quotes/202627887/composite RIO +0.20% /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO -0.76% /zigman2/quotes/208934945/delayed UK:RIO +0.72% dropped 1%. The miner said it may put its troubled coal business in Mozambique up for sale or bring in a partner to help build infrastructure to get the materials to a port. See: Rio Tinto mulls sale of Mozambique coal unit
Shares of TUI Travel PLC gave up 4.8%, as TUI AG /zigman2/quotes/206714402/delayed DE:TUI1 -4.03% said it won’t bid for the British travel agent, ditching plans of a merger between the two companies. See: TUI AG: Won't make an offer for TUI Travel
Sage Group PLC /zigman2/quotes/204528931/delayed UK:SGE +0.91% dropped 1.2%. The software provider said trading in all regions remains in line with expectations, but that conditions in Europe were challenging. See: Sage says trading still remains in line with views
Also worth of note in London, Barclays PLC /zigman2/quotes/208409333/delayed UK:BARC -0.77% /zigman2/quotes/206581728/composite BCS -0.90% on Tuesday told its U.K. investment-banking staff that job cuts could be in store in efforts to restructure the bank to adapt to new regulations, according to a Wall Street Journal report. A representative told the newspaper that the bank has started looking into potential job cuts as part of a formal review of the entire group. Barclays shares closed slightly lower, after spending most of the day in positive territory. See: Barclays warns of investment bank cuts
On a similar theme, Lloyds Banking Group PLC /zigman2/quotes/202285510/delayed UK:LLOY -1.75% /zigman2/quotes/200709414/composite LYG -2.29% confirmed plans to cut 940 jobs and said all affected employees had been briefed by their line manager on Tuesday. Lloyds shares fell 1.5%.