UK unemployment remained at 4.7% in the three months to February 2017, which was its lowest rate since 1975 but inflation started to impact wage growth. The FTSE 250 advanced 0.4% while the pound was stable against major currencies. Nurofen and Air Wick owner Reckitt Benckiser (RB.) was up 1.7% to £75.19, while utility firms United Utilities (UU) and Severn Trent (SVT) helped boost the blue-chip index. Brent crude oil fell 0.6% to $56.58 per barrel. Gold was stable at $1,272 per ounce, while copper cheapened 1% to $5,688 per tonne. OVERSEAS MARKETS Shares in troubled United Airlines partially recovered after owner Oscar Munoz apologised that a passenger was dragged off an overbooked US flight. The firm suffered an initial 4% drop on Tuesday after video footage of the incident emerged. Overall, the US markets closed flat as US oil inventories fell last week, helping oil prices rise by 0.5%. In Japan, alarm bells were ringing as conglomerate Toshiba warned its survival was at risk. The Nikkei 225 fell 1% as investors rushed to ditch the stock. FTSE 100 RISERS AND FALLERS Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton (BLT) rebuffed calls to overhaul its corporate structure and spin-off its US oil division. Activist investor Elliott International called for management action to boost shareholder returns but BHP batted off the demands and branded Elliott's proposal flawed as it would involve costs far beyond any benefits. The stock nudged 0.8% lower to £13. The UK's biggest supermarket Tesco (TSCO) was under pressure thanks to a £235m exceptional charge linked to its 2014 accounting scandal. In the utility sector, National Grid (NG.) sparked 0.5% to £10.36 on expectations that headline full-year results would reflect higher favourable timing in both its UK and US businesses. FTSE 250 RISERS AND FALLERS Business was still going strong at recruiter PageGroup (PAGE) as profit in its first quarter rose to £170.3m, up 19.7% from £142.2m in the same period a year ago. EMEA, Asia Pacific and the Americas contributed significantly to strong performance, but profit was lower in the UK as Brexit jitters subdued hiring. UK home builder Countryside Properties (CSP) fared better as it benefitted from strong growth in its first half as completions were up 31% to 1,437 homes. Shares in the firm were up 1.8% to 266.6p. Book seller WH Smith (SMWH) unveiled a 3.7% rise in first half pre-tax profit as its travel business outperformed its lagging high street retail operations. Investors were still concerned about its longer-term prospects as the stock fell more 1.4% to £17.99. Hunting (HTG) sparked 2% on better-than-expected first quarter revenue thanks to ongoing high demand from the US shale gas industry. SMALL CAP RISERS AND FALLERS Thalassa (THAL) swung to a pre-tax profit of $2.5m from a loss of $11.8m in the year to 31 December. In an update on Autonomous Robotics, management said it would continue to provide certain funding to the subsidiary, although external investment would be sought. This concerned investors who didn't want to be tapped for cash and the stock slumped 9.6% to 59p. Serabi Gold's (SRB) first quarter of gold production (9,861 ounces) was in line with guidance, triggering a 5% jump in the stock to 5.2p. The market was also reassured by steady progress in its mine production from both the Palito and Sao Chico ore bodies.
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