• FTSE 100 closes ahead 8.65 points
  • US stocks seen extending record highs
  • Trade deal hopes provide Christmas gift

12.45pm: Happy Christmas Eve after all

The FTSE 100 index closed near its modest peak after a quiet half-day trading session on Christmas Eve, supported by expectations that US stocks will move up to fresh record highs later on amid US/China trade deal hopes.

At its 12.30pm close, the UK benchmark was 8.65 points higher at 7,632.24, just off the late peak of 7,636.16, and well above the opening low of 7,608.22.

Edward Moya, senior market analyst, New York at OANDA commented: “This Christmas Eve will not mimic last year, when we saw US stocks collapse with the S&P 500 falling into bear market territory.  This holiday period should be rather calm as trade updates appear very constructive as we near the finalization of the phase-one trade deal next month. The reason we won’t see a repeat of last year is because there are no fears of any of the major central banks tightening policy anytime soon.” 

He added: “The playbook for 2020 will be for stocks to rise higher as markets firmly believe the Fed will be on hold, credit markets are healthy, the consumer is strong and some of the key headwinds in 2019 are becoming tailwinds. 

“The S&P 500 index could target $3,400 next year, but likely begin to falter post-2020 election as recession risks begin to surface.  The first half of the year should be filled with a ton of optimism with a global rebound in manufacturing that will see a broader rally that should also seeing the dollar continue to weaken.

“We have not seen a GDP recession this year and chances are we won’t in 2020, but a profits recession will hurt the corporate sectors cash flow, which is already heavily leveraged.”

11.15am: Going nowhere not very fast

The FTSE 100 index was barely moving as the half-day Christmas Eve session inched towards its last hour of trading, with US stocks also forecast to add little to Monday’s move up to fresh record highs.

The UK blue-chip index was up just 2 points at 7,626, having stuck to a tight trading range between a peak of 7,632.72 and a low of 7,608.22.

David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK commented “It has been a lacklustre trading session as not much happened in Asia overnight so traders in Europe have been left uninspired. A lack of major geopolitical news has caused market volatility to be low.

“If markets are moving aggressively in one direction or the other, it often sparks interest from other dealers to get involved as the fear of missing out kicks in. Well, in today’s case, the lack of movement more failed to entice other traders off the fence.”

CMC Markets UK is expecting the Dow Jones to open 25 points higher at 28,576, with the S&P 500 up just 2 points at 3,226 when New York’s half-day session begins later.

9.50am: Tick-up as Santa nears

The FTSE 100 index managed to edge into positive territory around mid-session on Christmas Eve, with trading set to end at 12.30pm, although there was little to provide much incentive aside from the focus on the coming festivities.

Approaching 10am, the UK benchmark was around 4 points firmer at 7,628, having dipped back by a similar amount earlier.

There was hardly any blue-chip news, but Admiral Group PLC (LON:ADM) ticked higher, up 0.3% at 2,305p after the insurer announced that it has mutually agreed to terminate a proposed agreement to form a joint venture to combine its Spanish business, Rastreator Comparador Correduría de Seguros with Acierto.

The firm said the decision was due to “challenges in completing the transaction within a reasonable timeframe, predominantly relating to antitrust complexity.”

The recent tug of war over the share price of NMC Health PLC (LON:NMC) continued as the FTSE 100-listed firm moved to further refute allegations made against it by Muddy Waters.

The UAE-based hospitals operator’s share price received a boost on Monday when the company revealed it would kick off an independent investigation into the allegations made by the hedge fund.

But after Monday’s rally, NMC shares were down 2.6% this morning at 1,733.50p.

8.30am: Bah humbug for Footsie

The FTSE 100 index started Christmas Eve in subdued fashion as the Santa rally petered out even though US stocks hit new records overnight on their final full day of trading before the holidays.

In early trade, as predicted, the UK blue-chip index shed 3 points at 7,621, having gained 41 points on Monday, although 6 points were knocked off the index by early ex-dividend fallers which included BT Group PLC (LON:BT.A) and British American Tobacco PLC (LON:BATS).

Overnight on Wall Street, US stock indices ended strongly after President Trump said an initial US-China trade pact would be signed soon.

David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets UK commented: “The Chinese government took a small step towards bridging the gap between them and Washington DC as it was revealed that more than 850 US imports will see their tariffs reduced as of the New Year. Beijing plan to widen the list of products in July too, so some seasonal goodwill has been given by the Chinese government, and more is in the pipeline.”

He added: “The ever evolving trade story has been great for President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The achievement of securing phase one of the deal sent US stock markets to record highs, and collecting tariffs has been a nice boost to the governments’ coffers. Farmers in the US can look forward to see demand for their goods increase next year as China has committed to ramp up purchases.

“The trade story is far from over so Mr Trump can continue the battle next year, and as long as it doesn’t impact US growth, it should play well with voters. The unemployment rate in the US recently fell to a fifty year low, average earnings are conformably above the CPI rate, and the growth achieved in the third-quarter exceeded the second-quarter so the Donald is going into 2020 with a strong score card.”

With trading set to end at 12.30pm today in London, there was little news for dealers to get their teeth into.

But Nuformix PLC (LON:NFX) delivered some good cheer, adding 4.8% to 7.65p after the drug developer said in its half-year report it has made significant progress.

The group, which uses cocrystal technology to unlock the therapeutic potential of approved small molecule drugs, has focused all its efforts and resources into advancing its lead programmes and during the period it successfully completed its first clinical development study for its lead product NXP001.

The study validated the group’s platform and demonstrated it can rapidly translate its applications of cocrystal technology into human use.

Proactive news headlines:

Drugs developer Nuformix PLC (LON:NFX) said in its half-year report it has made significant progress. The group, which uses cocrystal technology to unlock the therapeutic potential of approved small molecule drugs, has focused all its efforts and resources into advancing its lead programmes and during the period it successfully completed its first clinical development study for its lead product NXP001. The study validated the group’s platform and demonstrated it can rapidly translate its applications of cocrystal technology into human use.

Polarean Imaging PLC (LON:POLX), the medical-imaging technology company, has delivered and installed its latest research unit order for a 9820 Xenon Polariser system. The order was placed by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The total number of Polarean’s polarisers that are either installed or on order remains 25.

Online gaming platform operator Nektan PLC (LON:NEK) says its shares will be suspended on 2 January ahead of the possible sale of its B2C platform. Talks over the disposal and subsequent restructuring of the company are at an advanced stage and due to that Nektan says it is unlikely it will publish its accounts by the end of the year as required, which will mean automatic suspension for its shares. The accounts are expected to be published later in January.

CentralNic Group PLC (LON:CNIC), the company that supplies domain name and web services subscriptions over its proprietary platforms to millions of businesses globally, has completed its acquisition of Team Internet, a web service provider based in Munich, Germany. In a Christmas Eve statement, Ben Crawford, CEO of CentralNic, said: “The acquisition of Team Internet is a natural extension of CentralNic’s domain sales business and a major step in adding domain related web services to CentralNic’s service offering. It is another web-based recurring revenue business that will be significantly earnings enhancing for the financial year ending 31 December 2020.”

A write-off of its stake in ferrosilicon producer Steelmin and Botswana diamond explorer Amulet sent Red Rock Resources PLC (LON:RRR)  into the red in the year to June. Red Rock also decided not to write back any of the £5.28mln impairment of its Kenya gold assets as new licences have yet to be issued in spite of a settlement with the country’s ministry. The company fared better with its investment in manganese producer Jupiter Mines, where dividends received rose to £750,000 from £250,000.

Regency Mines PLC  (LON:RGM) announced that as part of its recent placing, approved by shareholders on Monday, its new executive chairman James Parsons has purchased 727,273 new ordinary shares giving him a 0.8% holding in the company.

Salt Lake Potash Limited (LON:SO4) (ASX:SO4) announced that a General Meeting of the company will be held at the Conference Room, Ground Floor, BGC Centre, 28 The Esplanade, Perth, Western Australia on Wednesday 29 January 2020 at 1:00pm (WST). The group said the meeting will consider the second tranche of the placement announced on 6 December 2019, as well as ratifying the first tranche of placement shares in order to refresh the company’s placement capacity.

6.50am: Subdued start seen to festivities

The FTSE 100 index is expected to start Christmas Eve in slightly subdued fashion as the Santa rally that finally started following the Tory victory in the recent UK general election comes to its conclusion.

Spread betting firm IG expects the UK blue-chip index to open around 3 points lower at 7,620, having gained 41 points on Monday.

Overnight on Wall Street, US stock indices ended at fresh record highs after President Trump said an initial US-China trade pact would be signed soon.

The Dow Jones Industrials Average ended 96 points, or 0.3% higher at 28,551, with the broader S&P 500 index up 0.1%, while the tech-laden Nasdaq Composite added 0.2%.

However, Asian markets were mixed today, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 index up 0.1% but Hong King’s Hang Seng index down 0.2% as the holiday lull set-in.

With trading in London due to end at 12.30pm today – before New York opens for its own half-day – both volume and interest are expected to be very thin, with ex-dividend factors likely to account for the opening decline.

No UK corporate or economic news is scheduled for release, so traders will be focused on picking up the turkey and any last-minute present buying.

Retailers could be a Christmas Eve feature as a result, with general and food stores hoping for a rush to finish the crucial Christmas period, and then a boost from the New Year sales.

Significant announcements expected on Tuesday December 24:

Christmas Eve, markets close at 12.30pm

Economic data: US durable goods orders

FTSE 100 ex-dividends to knock 6 points off the index: BT Group PLC (LON:BT.A), Halma PLC (LON:HLMA), British American Tobacco PLC (LON:BATS)

Around the markets:

Sterling: US$1.2940, up 0.1%

Gold: US$1,482,50 an ounce, unchanged      

Brent crude: US$66.57 a barrel, up 0.2%

City Headlines:

China is to slash tariffs on hundreds of products next week to prop up its slowing economy amid signs of an improved trading relationship with the US – The Times

Boeing has ousted its chief executive Dennis Muilenburg as the US aerospace giant reels from a scandal after two fatal crashes of its 737 Max jets – Daily Telegraph

Warren Buffett’s investment protégé Todd Combs was named as chief executive of Geico, the US car insurance company – Financial Times

Barbour, the outdoors clothing supplier to the Queen, brushed off a downturn on the high street to post an 11% jump in sales last year – Daily Telegraph

The incoming Governor of the Bank of England has heaped pressure on Google to crack down on investment scams which are marketed online – Daily Mail

The Bank of England has placed Lloyd’s of London under special measures after Lloyd’s discovered shortfalls in its whistleblowing programme – The Guardian

The spying scandal engulfing Credit Suisse has deepened after the Swiss bank admitted that a second senior employee had been followed on the orders of a top executive – The Times

Ryanair has failed in an attempt to prevent easyJet from hiring its former chief operating officer, after a Dublin judge refused to block the appointment – Financial Times

DraftKings, the US fantasy sports betting group, is set to go public in a three-way merger that values the combined business at US$3.3bn – Financial Times

Andy Stewart, the founder of two of the City’s highest-profile independent brokerages, Collins Stewart and Cenkos Securities, has taken a fresh stake in Cenkos nine years after he left the broker – Financial Times