Commodity stocks lift FTSE to 10-week high; pricing worries hit Unilever

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A stone motif can be seen on the front of the Unilever building in central London, Britain, March 15, 2018. Reuters

MILAN, (Reuters) – The UK’s top share index rose on Thursday as surging crude oil prices boosted commodity stocks, while consumer goods giant Unilever fell on worries over its pricing power.

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By 0838 GMT, the FTSE 100 was up more than 0.2 percent to its highest level since early February and the mid cap index also gained, up 0.4 percent.

The energy and materials sectors contributed most to the gains in the FTSE with oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and BP and heavyweight miners Glencore and Rio Tinto trading up between 0.5 and 0.8 percent.

While oil prices hit their highest in over three years after a report that top exporter Saudi Arabia was pushing for higher prices, metal prices also hit new peaks due to supply concerns related to US sanctions on Russian mining firms.

The higher commodity prices however raised some worries over inflation.

“You would think that investors would start to worry (more) about the inflationary effects of the sharp rises being seen in commodity prices in recent weeks than the effects of some tariffs that haven’t even been fully implemented yet,” CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson said.

Unilever fell 2.4 percent as worries over pricing offset an in-line set of results.

“Price growth is underwhelming…. This could concern investors that Unilever might lose pricing power,” said Jauke de Jong, research analyst at ‎AFS Group in Amsterdam.

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group reported first-quarter sales figures that met expectations, helped mainly by increases in the volume of products sold, and maintained its full-year outlook.

Still in earnings, Rentokil Initial rose 2.6 percent following its earnings update.

Shares in advertising group WPP, hit earlier this week after the departure of founder Martin Sorrell, got a tonic from a solid update from French peer Publicis which beat sales growth forecasts driven by the rebound of its North American activities. WPP shares rose 3.1 percent to the top of the FTSE.

Bank HSBC rose 1.4 percent after Credit Suisse upgraded the stock to neutral following the stock’s recent underperformance and ahead of its quarterly update.

“Q1 results should be reassuring, but no buyback announcement (is) expected,” Credit Suisse said.

Among mid caps, defence contractor Ultra Electronics fell 8 percent after announcing that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office had opened a criminal investigation into “suspected corruption in the conduct of business” in Algeria.

Weir Group jumped 5.2 percent after the firm agreed to acquire U.S. mining tools maker ESCO for $1.05 billion.

In the battered UK retail sector, Debenhams fell 7.8 percent after the department store group cut its dividend and warned on its full-year outlook for the second time in four months.

Data showed that British retail sales recorded their biggest quarterly fall in a year during the three months to March, after unusually cold and snowy weather kept shoppers at home.

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