The pound continued its strong growth against the US dollar, as confidence in the UK’s vaccine rollout appears to be gaining traction.
Sterling surged above 1.40 dollars for the first time since April 2018 and was up 0.34% at 1.402 on the day as stock markets in Europe closed. It was also up 0.36% against the euro at 1.214.
Typically, the internationally-focused FTSE 100 falls when the pound strengthens, but it too closed the day up 6.87 points, or 0.1%, at 6624.02.
In Europe, the CAC 40 in Paris and the DAX 30 in Frankfurt both ended up 0.8%.
A slew of economic data for the UK failed to dampen spirits, including heavy falls in retail sales in January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the first January deficit in 10 years and UK flash PMI data showing the economy remains in decline.
David Madden, financial analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: “Sterling has been in a solid upward trend recently, it came under a bit of pressure this morning in the wake of the dreadful UK retail sales numbers but the move was relatively small when you consider the awful reading.”
In company news, the biggest announcement on a quiet Friday for corporate reporting was NatWest Group, formerly known as RBS.
Bosses revealed the bank made a pre-tax operating loss of £351 million in 2020, down from a profit of £4.2 billion a year earlier. The bank took a £3.2 billion impairment charge – accounting for expected loans that will fail due to the Covid-19 crisis.
But shareholders preferred to focus on the return of a dividend – paying up 3p-per-share or £364 million, with shares closing up 8.85p, or 5.2%, at 180.15p.
Elsewhere, Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) said it has agreed to sell its education technology arm for 410 million dollars (£293.4 million) in an effort to strengthen its finances during the pandemic.
The Hobsons’ Naviance and Intersect businesses will now be owned by US education technology firm PowerSchool for about 320 million dollars.
Its college-focused Starfish business from the rest of the Hobsons stable goes to US firm EAB for 90 million dollars. Shares closed up 166p, or 21%, at 946p.
Another publisher, Future, revealed a profit upgrade due to high levels of online engagement in the four months to the end of January, although its Events division suffered. Shares closed up 20p at 1,922p.
Retail property firm NewRiver has snapped up Sheffield’s The Moor development in a £41 million move through its joint venture with Bravo.
Investors were told the firm has identified the potential to build up to 1,100 built-to-rent residential units and up to 300 student accommodation units at the site. Shares closed up 1.5p at 87.5p.
And property investment firm Segro said its portfolio grew 10% by the end of 2020 to £13 billion. Pre-tax profit was up by 62% to £1.5 billion last year, leading to a rise in the dividend to 22.1p a share. Shares closed up 14.6p at 977.4p.
The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Antofagasta, up 123p at 1,838p; Rolls-Royce, up 5.32p at 98.66p; NatWes,t up 8.85p at 180.15p; IAG, up 8.05p at 165.75p; and Evraz, up 24.6p at 556.6p.
The biggest fallers were Experian, down 91p at 2,489p; Reckitt Benckiser, down 206p at 6,072p; Intertek, down 186p at 5,694p; AstraZeneca, down 228p at 7,226p; and Relx, down 47.5p at 1,760.5p.