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14 Jan 2021 | 17:26

London close: Stocks higher as investors hold breath for Biden's package

(Sharecast News) - London stocks finished in the green on Thursday as investors waded through a deluge of corporate releases, amid expectations that US President-elect Joe Biden will unveil a Covid-19 relief package.

The FTSE 100 was up 0.84% at 6,801.96 and the FTSE 250 was 0.77% firmer at 20,775.75.

According to earlier reports, Biden was set to announce a $2 trillion relief bill.

That news came after Donald Trump was impeached for the second time, for inciting violence at the Capitol Hill riots.

"A more positive tone in markets has developed ahead of the expected stimulus announcement from Joe Biden, investors hoping that the president-elect will move quickly and in substantial form to secure a new package that will bolster the US economy as the vaccine programme moves into a higher gear," said IG market analyst Chris Beauchamp.

"The week has seen little real movement across most markets, the small bounce in the dollar notwithstanding, and the hope for traders will be that the Biden news will at least inject some more excitement into what has been a dull few days for markets.

"The impeachment of the sitting president has been mostly ignored, investors remembering that an actual Senate trial is unlikely to start before Biden's inauguration, although the risk of civil unrest cannot be discounted."

On the corporate front, investors were sinking their teeth into a raft of updates, with Tesco, Taylor Wimpey, Associated British Foods and Whitbread among the big names reporting.

Taylor Wimpey rallied 2.48% after the housebuilder said its 2020 results will be in line with market expectations despite the impact of the pandemic.

Peers followed suit, with Persimmon up 2.22% and Barratt Developments 3.06% higher.

Persimmon was also boosted by positive comments from broker Liberum, which said it was its preferred large cap housebuilder, as it likes its exposure to lower price points, the north, first-time buyers and its strong balance sheet and dividends.

Premier Inn owner Whitbread gained 4.31% despite a downbeat update in which it warned of a "challenging" trading environment, after the latest round of lockdown restrictions caused accommodation sales to plummet by more than half.

Traders suggested the positive reaction could be down to news that Whitbread now plans to cut around 1,500 jobs from its hotel and restaurant operations, versus previous indications that 6,000 jobs would be lost.

Just Group surged 19.29% after it said retirement income sales for 2020 rose 12% to £2.15bn, driven by record transactions for defined benefit pensions.

Food packing company Hilton Food added 3.01% after saying it has performed ahead of its expectations as it continues from a shift to home consumption amid the Covid crisis.

AB Foods managed gains of 1.53% after it said Primark will lose an extra £355m in sales due under new restrictions to control the spread of Covid-19 in the UK.

Meanwhile, Tesco nudged 0.29% lower as it stuck to its guidance for annual results after a 6.8% increase in Christmas sales helped offset an £85m increase in Covid-19 related costs.

The company said retail operating profit is likely to be at least the same as in 2019-20 excluding the cost of repaying business rates relief.

Dunelm slid 8.26% as it reported a spike in second-quarter sales, boosted by strong demand for homewares, but warned of a more uncertain outlook following the latest round of lockdown restrictions.

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