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26 Mar 2021 | 07:42

London pre-open: Stocks to rise as investors mull retail sales

(Sharecast News) - London stocks were set to gain at the open on Friday following losses in the previous session, as investors digest the latest UK retail sales data. The FTSE 100 was called to open 40 points higher at 6,714.

Data released earlier by the Office for National Statistics showed retail sales rose 2.1% on the month in February, in line with consensus expectations. On the year, sales were down 3.7% versus expectations for a 3.5% decline.

ONS deputy national statistician for Economic Statistics, Jonathan Athow, said: "Despite national restrictions, retail sales partially recovered from the hit they took in January.

"Food and department stores benefitted from essential retail remaining open with budget-end department stores seeing increased sales. Household goods also fared well, with feedback suggesting spending on home improvement and outdoor products boosted sales as consumers prepared for an easing of lockdown restrictions. However, clothing stores continue to struggle with sales down more than half on their pre-pandemic level.

"The share of online sales increased to a record high reflecting the impact the pandemic has had on consumer spending."

In corporate news, insurer Aviva said it had sold its Polish unit to Allianz for €2.5bn to focus on its strongest businesses in the UK, Ireland and Canada and cut debt.

The divestment is Aviva's eighth in the past eight months, and "successfully concludes the planned refocus of the group's portfolio", the company said.

Smiths Group increased its interim dividend and said it was confident about meeting expectations for annual results after profit fell in the first half.

Headline operating profit fell 11% to £166m in the six months to the end of January as revenue declined to £1.15bn from £1.24bn. Smiths increased its interim dividend by 6% to 11.7p and said trading was improving in the second half.

Oxford Instruments said it was expecting a marginal improvement in revenue, following good progress in the second half.

The FTSE 250 industrial and scientific supplier said revenue was expected to be "marginally ahead" of the prior year, including a small adverse impact from currency effects.

Adjusted operating profit for the year ending 31 March was anticipated to be between £55m and £57m, supported by the operating efficiencies it had implemented.

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