UK stocks edge higher in muted holiday trading

Reading Time: 2 minutes

UK shares rose in pre-Christmas trading on Friday, with investors largely hopeful that the global economy can weather the impact from the Omicron coronavirus variant that has forced several countries to re-impose restrictions.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 added 0.3%, extending gains for a fourth session.

The index is on track for its best monthly performance in almost a year, as a surge mining and banking stocks helped investors look past soaring cases of the Omicron variant.

Shares of heavyweight banks, including HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered and LLoyds Group benefitted as the Bank of England raised its interest rate to 0.25% from the record low of 0.1% for the first time since the pandemic.

“From an index perspective, BoE hiking cycles have been bullish for risk markets, more so the internationally exposed FTSE 100 compared to the FTSE 250,” said Justin McQueen, strategist at DailyFX.

The mid-cap index advanced 0.3%, on course for its best week in more than eight months, as travel and leisure stocks rose strongly in December.

The British government said on Thursday there is a 50% to 70% lower likelihood of hospitalization for those infected by Omicron versus the Delta strain, but the new variant’s higher transmissibility may still lead to significant numbers needing hospital treatment.

Reckitt Benckiser inched lower after saying it would sell its E45 skincare brand and related sub-brands to Karo Pharma for 200 million pounds ($267.98 million).

Building materials business CRH gained 1.2% on announcing a buyback of $300 million commencing on Dec. 24 and ending no later than March 30, 2022. British markets will close early on Friday and remain shut for Christmas and Boxing Day on Monday and Tuesday.