London Markets: FTSE 100 finds higher ground, as miners find cheer in China data

U.K. large-cap stocks moved higher Wednesday, as gains for Prudential PLC and mining shares helped the market push past the overhang from the firing of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Miners were on the rise after data showed China’s industrial production grew faster than expected in early 2018, helped by strong overseas demand for Chinese goods.

How markets are moving

The FTSE 100 index UKX, +0.25% was up 0.2% at 7,152.64, after tilting lower in the opening stages of the session. The basic materials group topped advancing sectors, but oil and gas and utility shares lagged. On Tuesday, the London benchmark fell 1.1%.

The pound GBPUSD, +0.0072%  bought $1.3947, down from $1.3962 late Tuesday in New York. Sterling on Tuesday leapt 0.4% against the greenback.

What’s driving markets

At the open, London’s blue-chip stocks looked set for a third straight loss, after logging a steep fall in the prior session. That reflected declines for European SXXP, +0.34%   and Asian stocks NIK, -0.87% HSI, -0.53%  after the unexpected firing of Tillerson raised questions about the future tone of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, reports late Tuesday said the White House is looking at imposing up to $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, stoking fears about global trade wars.

But an early rise for the U.S. dollar against the pound helped lift the FTSE 100. Sterling strength can hurt shares of London-listed multinational companies, which make the bulk of their earnings overseas.

The FTSE 100 also revived as mining shares gained after the Chinese industrial data, which signaled that China’s economy expanded faster than expected in the first two months of 2018, as exports rose. China is a major buyer of industrial and precious metals.

Stock movers

Among mining shares, Anglo American PLC AAL, +1.79%  rose 2.2% and Antofagasta PLC  ANTO, +2.14%  picked up 2%.

Prudential PLC PRU, +5.20% leapt 5% after the financial services company saying it will spin off M&G Prudential. Following that move, M&G Prudential will be an independent provider of savings and investment services.

Wm. Morrison Supermarkets MRW, -1.77%  fell 1.1% even as the company raised its final dividend to 4.43 pence a share and said fiscal 2018 pretax profit rose.

“Despite Morrison’s making all the right noises, the share price dropped in early trade, with investors opting to book profits after a strong run up into the release,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior market analyst at City Index, in a note.

What strategists are saying

“Personnel issues in the White House left investors nervous over the direction of the Trump administration for a second time in so many weeks,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at London Capital Group, in a note.

Tillerson was “often considered the voice of reason in a sometimes very chaotic White House,” said Lawler. “With Tillerson out the door, the market is assuming that Trump is aiming for a more aggressive foreign policy — enough to send a chill through the markets.”

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