Weak pound pushes FTSE 100 close to record high

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London’s top-flight index edged towards record territory on Wednesday as blue-chip stocks enjoyed a leg up from the weak pound.

The FTSE 100 Index closed up 26.7 points to 7,542.87 – 13.4 points shy of last Thursday’s all-time closing high of 7,556.24 – as Pearson delivered a strong session after hiking its annual earnings targets on Tuesday.

Shares in the education group rose 20p to 687p, making it the biggest riser on the London market and helping offset a dismal performance by Reckitt Benckiser after it warned over sales for the second time in three months.

Education group Pearson's share price over the past week (PA)
Education group Pearson’s share price over the past week (PA)

On the second tier, the FTSE 250 Index scraped an all-time closing high, rising 128.82 points to 20,259.77, marginally beating a record of 20,259.51 set on Friday.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: “It’s been a positive day for most sectors today with education publisher Pearson one of the standout performers, for the second day in a row.

“The share price has risen after a couple of upward price revisions from Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase building on Tuesday’s gains which saw the company announce a better than expected outlook for the rest of the fiscal year.”

Across Europe, Germany’s Dax and the Cac 40 in France both climbed 0.4% higher.

In currency, sterling remained on the back foot, as a strong US dollar and the latest update on UK wage growth saw the pound slip 0.1% against the greenback to 1.317.

Average earnings increased by 2.2% in the year to August, unchanged from the previous month, and below the latest RPI inflation rate of 3.9% and 3% for CPI inflation.

However, the jobless total was cut by 52,000 in the quarter to August to 1.4 million, the lowest since 2005, with women driving the growth in employment.

The pound was 0.1% off versus the euro at 1.11.

Multi-national stocks, which report in US dollars or euros, get a boost when the pound falls because their earnings benefit from a more favourable currency translation.

Focusing on oil, Brent crude fell by 0.2% to 57.95 US dollars a barrel, continuing its retreat from Monday’s gains when the conflict between the Iraqi government and the Kurds around the city of Kirkuk threatened to disrupt supply.

In UK stocks, Nurofen and Durex-owner Reckitt Benckiser was among the biggest fallers as it grapples with “challenging” markets and the ongoing impact of a recent cyber attack.

Shares were down 178p to 6,857p, as the firm revealed another 2% sales hit from the ransomware attack in June, which significantly disrupted its manufacturing and orders systems across a raft of markets, including the UK.

It also announced a corporate overhaul to reorganise the firm into two divisions – its consumer health business, including recently acquired US infant formula company Mead Johnson, and a home and hygiene arm.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury also closed down 1.4p to 246.3p, as investors digested Tuesday’s announcement that it would cut around 2,000 payroll and human resources jobs across the business.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Pearson up 20p at 687p, ITV up 5.2p at 178.7p, International Consolidated Airlines Group up 17p at 652.5p, and Rolls-Royce Holdings up 22.5 at 930p.

The biggest fallers were Shire down 119.5p at 3,719.5p, Rio Tinto down 110.5p at 3,599p, Reckitt Benckiser Group down 178p at 6,857p, and Anglo American down 31.5p at 1,428p.

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