Shares in the FTSE 100 index are 0.2% lower at 7,235 with interest rates in focus ahead of European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi’s press conference later today.

Gains on bank stocks, which typically benefit from rising yields, are being offset by losses on utilities, whose share prices generally fall when interest rates are rising.

That indicates traders expect Draghi to continue to play down the need for lower interest rates amid a recovery eurozone economy.

Shares in all of the UK’s big four banks are up while utilities National Grid (NG), SSE (SSE), and United Utilities (UU.) trade lower.

Government bond yields in most large European markets also trade between two and five basis points higher.


But it is Royal Mail (RMG), down 4.3%, which is the biggest blue chip loser as mail volumes over Christmas proved disappointing. Revenue dipped marginally in the important festive period, Royal Mail's third quarter, according to our calculations. Chief executive Moya Greene maintains that earnings for the year to 31 March 2017 will be in line with analyst forecasts.

In the mid cap FTSE 250 index, Pets at Home (PETS) leads the losers, down 7.3% to 221p, as it flags ‘softer-than-anticipated’ retail sales, offset by growth in vet services and online sales.

Moving the other way is mail order and online retailer N Brown (BWNG), up 7.7% to 219p, driven by double digit growth in its ladieswear range, which helped retail sales revenue gain 5.9%. Online sales gained 12% and is now 70% of total sales.

Car parts-to-camping equipment retailer Halfords (HFD) gains 7.1% to 378p as solid trading during the 15 weeks to 13 January results in the declaration of a special dividend of 10p a share. Like-for-like sales increased 5.9% driven by increased demand for child seats, part of a Travel Solutions division which grew its top-line by 15.4%.


Among the small caps, Powerhouse Energy (PHE:AIM) gains 64% to 1.35p as it secures an investment from Yady Worldwide via an equity raise. Yady has also invested alongside multi-billionaire Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovic in alternative energy outfit AFC Energy (AFC:AIM).

South African Property Realisations (SAPO:AIM) gains 34.3% to 4.7p after adjusting for a 7.25p a share dividend payment which became ex-dividend today.

Digital marketing specialist St Ives (SIV:AIM) plunges more than a third to 81p as weaker in-store promotions at grocery retailers dragged on revenue and profit.

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Issue Date: 19 Jan 2017