Stocks sanguine as ‘red hot’ US jobs data ups Fed pressure

A subdued FTSE 100 opens lower as energy stocks and advertising giant WPP weigh, a day after the Bank of England forecasts a bleak winter marking the onset of a 15-month recession.

Update: US job growth saw a surprise acceleration in July, dispelling fears that the world’s largest economy could be entering a recession but maintaining pressure on the US Federal Reserve to continue hiking interest rates agressively. 

Global markets were initially knocked by the news before rebounding, with the FTSE 100 trading up 19 points, or 0.25%, at 7,467 at 3.30pm. That put the UK blue-chip index on course for 0.6% weekly gain. 

Wall Street opened sharply down before staging a small recovery, which saw the S&P 500 trade 0.2% lower. The Nasdaq Composite – where tech stocks face the greatest risk from central bank rate hikes, as investors discount their future growth prospects – slipped 0.3%. 

US non-farm payroll numbers increased by 528,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported, lifting the level of employment back to its pre-Covid level. The strong reading trounced expectations of 250,000 new jobs, in a Reuters poll of economists, as well as showing wages continuing to rise.

The equivalent jobs figure for June was also revised about 7% upwards, to 398,000.

‘Today’s US jobs market report shows a labour market that remains red hot. Every single unemployment rate either dropped or stayed at post-pandemic levels as the economy ploughs on despite the economic trouble on the horizon,’ said Hinesh Patel, portfolio manager at Quilter Investors. 

‘The Federal Reserve will see this a sign that they need to continue to hike aggressively to get inflation under control and take some of the froth out of this tight labour market.’ 


(10:08) Energy stocks and WPP sap FTSE

A subdued FTSE 100 opened lower on Friday as weakness in energy stocks and advertising company WPP (WPP) weighed heavy. This came a day after the Bank of England hiked interest rates by 0.5 percentage points while forecasting a bleak winter and a 15-month recession.

The blue-chip index was trading down 7 points, or 0.1% at 7,441 just before 10am, ahead of the release of the latest data on the health of the American labour market, which global investors are watching closely for signs whether the US economy is stalling.

WPP published results from a ‘strong first half’ and raised its net sales outlook, but shares in the world’s largest advertising company dropped 8.1% to 820p – the worst performance across the whole London-listed market – after a run-up in the last month.

Revenue rose by 10.2% year-on-year to £6.8% and operating profit was up 11.4% to £539m, though margins declined slightly due to higher staff costs and a return to business travel.

Shore Capital analyst Roddy Davidson said the stock’s valuation was still ‘extremely modest’ and fears about a global slowdown hitting advertising spend had had a ‘disproportionate impact on the share price’.

In contrast with the Bank of England’s prediction yesterday that UK inflation could peak at 13% later this year, primarily driven by high energy prices, stocks in the sector pulled back in line with oil prices. While heading steady today, the Brent crude global benchmark has fallen below $95 (£78.31) per barrel this week. That saw BP (BP) tick 2.1% lower to 400p and Shell (SHEL) fall 1.3% to £21.05.

A pair of financial stocks led the risers, with Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) and London Stock Exchange (LSEG) making headway after well-received results.

Hargreaves’ profits fell 26% to £269m in the year to the end of June, while key metrics such as assets under administration and net new flows from clients were all down after stock markets turned turbulent this year. However, the shares rose 3.9% to 877p as investors seemed reassured about the company’s five-year growth strategy, which has so far entailed a technology spend of £28m.

London Stock Exchange shares were up 1.9% at £83.02 after it said costs and targets for integrating data company Refinitiv were on track and launching a £750m share buyback.

After the world’s largest economy entered a ‘technical recession’ this week, following two consecutive quarters of contraction, jobs data for the US for July is highly anticipated, as the health of the labour market is another key factor considered before formally declaring a slowdown.

The consensus is that 250,000 jobs will have been added in July, compared with 372,000 in June, with the unemployment rate unchanged at 3.6% as the labour market remains tight.

‘If the consensus comes through at the expected number, there could be another period of investor lethargy until some signs of a slowing labour market are in evidence. Until that time, the possibility of further [US Federal Reserve] tightening remains very much on the table,’ said Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.

The FTSE 250 edged 6 points higher to 20,162, helped by some recovery in the pound after a slide in the wake of yesterday’s interest rate announcement. Energy stocks likewise weighed on the mid-cap index, and outsourcing giant Serco (SRP) fell 4.8% to 174p after disappointing results from peer Capita (CPI), which itself dropped 6.4% to 27.5p.

Renewables rises

Among investment companies, Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG ) shares rose 2.3% to 143p after the portfolio of wind and solar farms confirmed its best-ever first half. High inflation and power prices pushed net asset value 12.5% higher to 134.2p per share at 30 June, a total return of 15.3% including dividends.

HydrogenOne Capital Growth (HGEN ) gained 2% to 91.9p on a 5% discount to net asset value after posting a 2.2% return in the second quarter.

Fundsmith Emerging Equities Trust (FEET ) firmed 1.7% to £11.95 on a 14% discount after half-year results showed a total loss of 16.5% in the six months to 30 June, underperforming the MSCI Emerging Markets index decline of 8.2%.

BlackRock Energy & Resources Income (BERI ) slipped 1% to 114.8p on a 7% discount on the weak oil price, although interims showed a strong performance in the half year to 31 May, with a total return from its conventional and clean energy investments of 25.9%.

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