London pre-open: Stocks set for slightly higher start despite doubts around virus outbreak

14 February 2020

(Sharecast News) - Stocks are being called to start the session slightly higher even as traders continue to grapple with the difficulty of pinpointing how far along China is in controlling the outbreak of a new coronavirus in the country.
Despite that, the FTSE 100 is being called to start the session three points higher at 7,455.

On Thursday, Chinese officials revised the methodology employed to count coronavirus cases to include "suspected" cases, or patients diagnosed with CT imaging scans, which are less reliable than nucleic acid tests, resulting in a spike in the reported number of cases.

"Markets are already adjusting to the new reality with shares in Asia falling and havens like gold and US treasuries rising. However, losses are limited for now," said Jasper Lawler, director of research at LCG.

"If this new methodology means detection methods have improved and if the spike in the number of cases is a one-off, then a larger market sell-off might be averted."

No major UK economic reports are scheduled for release on Friday.

Stateside, a raft of economic data is due out, starting with readings on monthly import prices and retail sales in December at 1330 GMT, followed by figures on industrial production at 1415 GMT and consumer confidence at 1500 GMT.

Meanwhile, in the euro area, investors will be watching the latest readings on euro area trade and gross domestic product covering the month of December and the fourth quarter of 2019, respectively.

Both reports are due out at 1000 GMT.

<strong>Drug giant's bottom-line hit by writedowns </strong>

<strong>AstraZeneca</strong>'s annual profit fell 14% as rising costs and higher asset writedowns offset sales increases at the pharmaceutical company. Operating profit for the year to the end of December declined to $2.9bn from $3.4bn a year earlier as revenue rose 10% to $24.4bn.

<strong>Royal Bank of Scotland</strong> reported a rise in annual profits as it forecast a ?200m hit to its personal business from regulatory changes. The bank reported operating profit before tax of ?4.23bn for the financial year, up from ?3.3bn and declared a final ordinary dividend of 3.0 pence a share with a 5.0 pence special dividend. It also announced that it would change its parent company name from RBS to NatWest Group later this year.

<strong>Segro</strong> reported a 10.8% rise in its adjusted pre-tax profit in its full-year results on Friday, to ?267.5m, which it said reflected a record year of development completions, high customer retention rates, like-for-like rental growth and a low vacancy rate. The FTSE 100 property investment and development company said adjusted earnings per share stood at 24.4p for the 12 months ended 31 December, which was up 4.3% over 2018, or 9.9% higher excluding the impact of the SELP performance fee received in 2018.