A chill swept through stock markets this afternoon after Russia started military drills near the Ukranian border and its defence minister denounced Nato exercises in eastern Europe.
According to Reuters, defence minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying: 'If this military machine is not stopped, it will lead to greater numbers of dead and wounded. Planned exercises by Nato forces in Poland and the Baltic countries do not foster normalisation of the situation surrounding Ukraine, either,' adding, 'We are forced to react to such a development of the situation.'
Shoigu's comments follow attempts by the new government in Kiev to seize back control of areas in eastern Ukraine from pro-Russia separatists this week with five rebels in Slovyansk killed today.
The FTSE 100 shed its earlier six-week high (see below) to trade nine points up on the day at 6,684. AstraZeneca (AZN), which had spiked higher on hopes for its new cancer drugs, lost half its gains to trade 3% up at £41.66.
Fears of the escalating tensions over Ukraine dampened the cheer over Apple's better than expected first quarter results and a $13.3 billion acquisition of Biomet by medical deveice maker Zimmer Holdings, although it did nudge Smith & Nephew (SN) to top of the FTSE leader board in London, up 3.3% at 909p.
The S&P 500 opened up just two points higher while the and the Dow Jones industrial average dipped nine points to 16,492. This was despite more encouraging economic data. Orders for long-lasting US manufactured goods rose 2.6%, ahead of forecasts of 2%, strengthening hopes that the US economic recovery is gathering speed after the winter freeze.
European markets gave up their gains too with the FTSEurofirst 300 flat at 1,388. On another day share prices could have risen in response to figures showing a decline in the amount of spare cash in the eurozone banking system. With liquidity at a two-and-a-half year low adds pressure on the European Central Bank to deliver more stimulus.
Gold gained $3.80 to $1,288 an ounce.
FTSE hits six-week high as Astra continues surge
11.12: The FTSE 100 has hit a six-week high with AstraZeneca (AZN.L) leading the running as a 17% drop in core earnings per share failed to dint enthusiasm for the pharmaceutical giant.
The FTSE added 42 points, or 0.6%, to reach 6,717, led by AstraZeneca, which jumped 244.5p, or 6%, to reach £42.85. Astra has announced first quarter results below market forecasts, but reported that four major experimental medicines, including two cancer drugs, were set for late-stage clinical testing, news that could revive its fortunes.
‘Particularly with progress made in the company’s broad immune-mediated cancer therapies portfolio, we expect the market to be forgiving of the slight miss in numbers,’ said Panmure Gordon analyst Savvas Neophytou.
However, the group did not comment on reports US rival Pfizer had approached it with a tentative £60 billion takeover bid. The stock is now more than 13% higher since the report first appeared in the Sunday Times.
Anglo American (AAL.L) was another big riser, adding 45p, or 2.9% to hit £15.92, as the miner reported an 18% rise in cooper output, and a 10% rise for iron ore, in the first quarter. Analysts at Investec have retained the stock as a ‘hold’ on the news. ‘Overall the numbers appeared slightly below our expectations but not worryingly so and unlikely to change,’ they said.
Unilever (ULVR.L) was the biggest faller, dropping 49p, or 1.9%, to £25.84, despite reporting first quarter performance in line with the market’s expectation. Chief executive Paul Polman’s comments that emerging markets were ‘currently passing through a period of slower demand and economic volatility’ have dampened sentiment.
Associated British Foods (ABF.L) meanwhile pared some of its big gains from yesterday, falling 37p, or 1.3%, to reach £29.27. ABF was Wednesday’s standout performer after announcing the expansion of its Primark clothing stores into the US.