Stock markets tread water as US-China trade deal in focus


Stock markets struggled to make headway on Tuesday as gloomy Chinese data sparked renewed global slowdown fears and as traders awaited the imminent US-China trade deal.

Equities trod water ahead of the interim trade deal between the two global economic powerhouses, with the phase one agreement expected to be signed on Wednesday.

But figures also showed the toll taken by the trade war and the wider global slowdown as China’s exports grew at their slowest pace in three years.

London’s FTSE 100 Index edged up just 4.75 points to close at 7622.35, with gambling stocks also in the spotlight after the Gambling Commission announced a ban on betting using credit cards.

It was a similarly tepid picture across Europe as the Cac 40 in France and the Dax in Germany ended the session broadly flat.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.3% ahead at the time of close in London as the earnings season kicked off.

JP Morgan Chase and rival Citigroup posted robust investment banking figures for the fourth quarter, helping push the Dow higher.

Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, said there was little upside left over the expected signing of the US-China initial trade deal, given that much of the cheer has already been priced in.

But he cautioned: “Any rogue Trump comment, or hint towards the even more difficult ‘phase two’ part of negotiations, however, could cause some movement in the second half of the week.”

In currency markets, the pound was 0.2% higher at 1.30 US dollars and 0.3% ahead at 1.17 euros.

“The currency is still, however, in a new year slump as the realities of Brexit, the UK’s economic issues and a potential rate cut all playing on sterling’s mind,” added Mr Campbell.

Among UK stocks, Paddy Power and Betfair group Flutter Entertainment was among gambling stocks suffering declines after the credit card ban.

The Gambling Commission said firms are set to face “tough enforcement action” when the ban is introduced on April 14.

Flutter closed 1% down, off 114p to 9096p, while rival William Hill in the FTSE 250 was 4.6p, or 2%, lower at 181.4p.

Housebuilders were making gains thanks to a solid update from Taylor Wimpey.

The group said housing completions rose 5% in 2019 and average selling prices on private completions rose 1% to £305,000, despite the economic and political uncertainty throughout last year.

Taylor lifted 4%, or 7.9p, to 209.9p in the top tier, while Persimmon followed close behind with a 61p gain to 2796p.

Elsewhere, online fashion retailer Boohoo closed up 15.7p, or 5%, to 333.7p after it saw sales soar 44% over the past four months, putting the online fashion retailer on track to surpass profit and revenue forecasts for the year.

Shares in Warhammer retailer Games Workshop were also surging higher, up 9%, or 585p, to 6960p – after it said pre-tax profits increased by 44% to £58.6 million over the six months to December 1.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were NMC Health, up 128.5p at 1385p; Taylor Wimpey, ahead 7.9p to 209.9p; Vodafone Group, 4.9p stronger at 156.5p; and Centrica, 2.2p higher at 89.7p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Evraz, down 17.4p to 395.1p; Pearson, off 20.6p to 605p; Mondi, 43p lower at 1630p; and WPP, 23p weaker at 1039.5p.