The FTSE 100 Index has staged a mini-fightback on the back of gains made by banking and mining stocks, but it was still more than 100 points down on the week.
The Footsie took a pasting on Wednesday and Thursday, dropping 188 points in two days amid fears that China would increase its interest rates, but it rebounded 28.3 points to 5896.3 on Friday as fears about overheating in Asia began to subside. However, it was still well below last Friday’s close of 6002.1.
Economists are predicting an imminent interest rate hike in China, as the country battles with stubbornly-high inflation – a move that would choke Chinese demand for commodities.
The speculation saw commodity stocks drop, while ongoing fears over the eurozone debt crisis and a weaker-than-expected show from American banks hit financials.
But these concerns eased on Friday as investors shrugged off the weak sentiment and were boosted by Thursday’s strong earnings report from US bank Morgan Stanley.
Royal Bank of Scotland soared more than 6% after reports the part-nationalised bank and Treasury officials were examining ways in which it could secure an early exit from the government’s asset protection scheme. Shares were up 2.8p at 44.9p. Meanwhile, Morgan’s 80% jump in fourth-quarter profits also lifted the sector, with Lloyds up 0.6p at 67.4p, although Barclays was down 2.4p at 300.9p.
Miners, which were also boosted by marginally improved metal prices, made gains, with Anglo-Swiss group Xstrata up 13.5p at 1402p and platinum miner Lonmin ahead 9p at 1753p.
Investors shrugged off official figures from the Office for National Statistics, which revealed retail sales volumes declined 0.8% last month – the worst December on record. Despite the report blue-chip retailers saw gains, with B&Q owner Kingfisher up 3.2p at 267.4p, Marks & Spencer ahead 1.1p at 368p and Primark owner Associated British Foods adding 7p to 1086p.
The pound was up against the dollar, at 1.60, as traders were prepared to blame the retail figures on the impact of the snow. But sterling was down against the euro, at 1.18, after the single currency was buoyed by the strongest German business confidence survey for 20 years.
The biggest Footsie risers were Royal Bank of Scotland up 2.8p at 44.9p, Autonomy ahead 56p at 1480p, Weir Group up 36p at 1653p and African Barrick Gold ahead 11p at 529p, while the biggest fallers were Man Group down 12.1p at 282p, Standard Chartered off 34p at 1673p, Burberry down 14p at 1031p and British Land off 7p at 516.5p.