Hacker at computer
Talks ongoing over Beijing-backed cyber groups of hacking key democratic institutions / Image source: Adobe

Stocks opened lower on Tuesday morning in London, while the US, the UK and New Zealand accused Beijing-backed cyber groups of hacking key democratic institutions.

The FTSE 100 index opened down 10.79 points, 0.1%, at 7,906.78. The FTSE 250 was down 20.36 points, 0.1%, at 19,593.17, and the AIM All-Share was down 1.43 points, 0.2%, at 735.83

The Cboe UK 100 was down 0.2% at 790.55, the Cboe UK 250 was down 0.2% at 17,004.42, and the Cboe Small Companies was flat at 14,614.64.

In European equities on Tuesday, the CAC 40 in Paris was down 0.1%, while the DAX 40 in Frankfurt was marginally up.

The US, UK and New Zealand have accused Beijing-backed cyber groups of being behind a series of attacks against lawmakers and key democratic institutions - allegations that prompted angry Chinese denials.

In rare and detailed public accusations against China, a trio of Washington, London and Wellington described a series of cyber breaches over the last decade or more, in what appeared to be a concerted effort to hold Beijing accountable.

The US Justice Department charged seven Chinese nationals over what it said was a 14-year ‘prolific global hacking operation’ designed to aid China’s ‘economic espionage and foreign intelligence objectives.’

Washington said a unit, dubbed APT31, was behind the attacks, describing it as a ‘cyberespionage program’ run by China’s powerful Ministry of State Security out of the central city of Wuhan.

With Britain expected to hold a general election within months, UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden also made a shock announcement that ‘a Chinese state-affiliated entity’ had likely ‘compromised’ the country’s Electoral Commission.

Sterling was quoted at $1.2655 at the time of the London open on Tuesday, higher than $1.2606 at the equities close on Monday. The euro traded at $1.0851 early Tuesday, higher than $1.0817 late Monday. Against the yen, the dollar was quoted essentially flat at JP¥151.28 versus JP¥151.27.

In Asia on Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo was marginally down. In China, the Shanghai Composite was up 0.2%, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong was 0.9%. The S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney closed down 0.4%

Focus this week will also be on a US inflation reading. The latest personal consumption expenditures data is released on Friday.

‘US stocks traded cautiously on Monday as the holiday-shortened week began, with investors hesitating to increase their risk exposure ahead of critical inflation data. Although all three major US indices recovered from their intraday lows, the overall sentiment remained subdued,’ SPI Asset Management analyst Stephen Innes commented.

‘After a strong performance last week, investors may be taking a hiatus and possibly enjoying the spring break, while others are adopting a wait-and-see approach for the next bullish catalyst, such as a favourable outcome from the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge. In this context, an ’all-clear’ signal would entail the inflation data meeting consensus expectations or coming in lower than anticipated.’

In the US on Monday, Wall Street ended lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 0.4%, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite both lost 0.3%.

In the FTSE 100, Ocado was the second-best performing stock, rising 2.8%.

In the 13 weeks that ended March 3, the grocer and warehouse technology firm said volumes rose 8.1% on-year, while retail revenue rose 11% to £645.3 million from £583.7 million.

Average orders per week rose 8.4%, while active customers across the period rose 6.4%.

Looking ahead, Ocado annual revenue growth in the ‘mid-high single digits’ and an underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of around 2.5%.

Marks & Spencer was up 0.2% on the Ocado news.

Flutter Entertainment also fared well, rising 2.5%.

But the Paddy Power owner reported a pretax loss for 2023 of $1.09 billion, widening from $295 million in 2022, despite revenue rising 25% to $11.79 billion from $9.46 billion.

Costs of sales rose 29% to $6.20 billion from $4.81 billion, sales and marketing expenses up 26% to $3.78 billion from $3.01 billion, while general and administrative expenses were up 37% to $1.60 billion from $1.17 billion.

In 2024 trading to-date, it said revenue was up 23% from the equivalent period a year earlier.

Looking ahead, Flutter expects 2024 revenue growth of around 18% from a year earlier and further adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation growth of 30%.

In the FTSE 250, Petershill Partners rose 1.8%.

The private equity-focused investment group said it swung to a pretax profit in 2023 of $397.1 million from a loss of $505.1 million a year earlier.

It swung to an investments gain at fair value of $397.1 million from a loss of $505.1 million, prompting the group to declare a final dividend of 10.1 US cents per year. This took total 2023 dividend payments to 15 cents per share, up from 14.5 cents.

Petershill Partners said it was mulling launching share buyback programme worth up to $100 million, serving a notice to terminate the current programme.

‘Our robust capital raising and dynamic approach to capital allocation underpins our ongoing confidence about our medium-term prospects for shareholders,’ the company said.

Elsewhere in London, Asos rose 4.6%.

The online fast-fashion retailer said sales were down 18% in the 26 weeks ended March 3 compared to a year earlier, which was largely in line with its outlook.

Asos said it was making strategy progress and clearing aged stock, while noting it was ahead on its plan to improve stock efficiency and reduce inventory.

It said it backs full-year outlook, expecting a 5% to 15% decline in sales and a positive adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. This is alongside restoring inventory back to pre-Covid levels, positive cash generation and reducing net debt.

Brent oil was trading at $85.93 a barrel early in London on Tuesday, higher than $85.80 late Monday.

Gold was quoted at $2,178.07 an ounce, higher than $2,164.77.

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Issue Date: 26 Mar 2024