Pick of the early market news

A few small gains for European stock markets yesterday (London remained closed). The German Dax inched 0.18% higher to 5,889 while the French CAC 40 barely budged; it rose 0.03% higher to 3,103. Better news across the pond: US consumer confidence climbs for the second month in a row - to an eight-month December high, in fact. The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index pushed 10 points higher to 64.5 compared to 55.2 in November.
Company news remains thin. We commence with Baltic loan operator MCB Finance Group. In a pre-close update, the company says performance remains strong, with further lending growth, continued attractive credit performance and improved profitability compared to prior periods.

"The Group has managed to grow lending volumes substantially in comparison to the first half of 2011," it says. "Principal lent in the second half of the year has been approximately 65% above the volumes seen during the same period last year."

The Group is expected to show revenue and net income levels for the 12 months to 31 December 2011 that are slightly above market expectations; the Board is also positive about the outlook of the Group in 2012.

Next, currency exchange and mortgage broker Baydonhill - and a first half year stumble. The company claims a pre-tax loss of £147,598 (2010: profit of £91,244). Foreign exchange commission after commission and bank charges was down, to £2.5 million from £3.0 million, while administrative expenses fell to £2.49 million from £2.9 million, the company says.

"Following the strategic changes of late 2010 the company has made good progress in developing a higher quality of earnings from core revenues," said Eric Peacock, chairman. "The Company is seeing continued growth from new business and is looking to expand its sales operation in the New Year".

Lastly, Kazakhstan oil operator Max Petroleum has released an operations update. It has completed drilling the SAGW-2 appraisal well in the Sagiz West Field on Block E with the well reaching a total depth of 1,451 metres, without encountering producible hydrocarbons.

"While not commercial, the SAGW-2 well has provided additional insight into the shape of the eastern flank of the Field," says Max president and CFO, Michael B. Young, "and we remain confident that we can successfully appraise the Sagiz West discovery with the next two wells."

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