By Steve Goldstein
U.K. blue chips edged lower on Thursday, as upbeat corporate earnings from Royal Dutch Shell and other corporate titans were countered by investors wary England would join Germany and France in locking down.
The FTSE 100 /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.15% slipped 0.2%, after losing 2.6% on Wednesday and closing at six-month lows. The European Central Bank met analyst expectations but perhaps disappointed the market a bit by leaving interest rates and its asset purchase program unchanged.
Royal Dutch Shell /zigman2/quotes/206428183/delayed UK:RDSA +0.52% shares rose 2%, as the oil major reported adjusted earnings of $955 million that came in well ahead of the $146 million expectation, and as it increased its dividend by 4%. “Due to outperformance in its marketing business, which include its petrol stations and convenience stores, the company managed to surprise the markets, with a better than expected profits performance, and a surprise increase in the dividend,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets U.K.
Lloyds /zigman2/quotes/202285510/delayed UK:LLOY -0.37% shares rose 3%, as it joined rivals such as HSBC Holdings /zigman2/quotes/203901799/delayed UK:HSBA -1.20% and Barclays /zigman2/quotes/208409333/delayed UK:BARC -0.82% in reporting stronger-than-forecast third-quarter profit and lower impairments than estimated.
Rival NatWest Group /zigman2/quotes/209265718/delayed UK:NWG +0.18% , which reports on Friday, also rose 3%.
Standard Chartered /zigman2/quotes/200125072/delayed UK:STAN -1.74% also beat expectations on profit and impairments, but the stock slumped 4%. The Asia-focused bank said next year should see asset quality improvement, but “we anticipate some sectors and markets will face continuing challenges.”
BT Group /zigman2/quotes/209006687/delayed UK:BT.A +2.78% shares rose as the U.K. telecom lifted the low end of its profit forecast.
Flutter Entertainment /zigman2/quotes/208882914/delayed UK:FLTR -1.85% shares rose 7%. Bank of America added the betting company to its “Europe 1” list, saying it is in the strongest position to share in the U.S. market with both its FanDuel and FoxBet brands.
Trader sentiment, however, remained cautious. U.K. housing minister Robert Jenrick said on Thursday the government would do everything it can to avoid a full lockdown, but said a circuit breaker “for a number of weeks” was a possibility. The U.K. government only sets the coronavirus rules for England, and Wales already is in a lockdown.
Also, top U.S. expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said a vaccine could “be in January, could be later,” deflating some optimism on when a potential end of the COVID-19 pandemic will come. U.S. election uncertainties and the pricing out of fiscal stimulus hopes also have contributed to the global malaise.