U.K. stocks lacked direction Thursday as investors waited to hear the latest on interest rates from the Bank of England, even as Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC shares gained.
The FTSE 100 UKX, -0.11% was up less than 0.1% at 7,111.21. Commodity, consumer goods and technology shares rose, but health care, telecom, consumer services and industrial stocks pulled back. The index on Wednesday finished up by 0.1%, paring a larger gain.
Topping the benchmark was Reckitt Benckiser RB., +2.21% , whose shares climbed 4.9%. The maker of Lysol and Vanish has confirmed it’s in talks to buy baby-food maker Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. MJN, -1.36% in a deal worth $ 16.7 billion.
Also rising were shares in Shell RDSB, +1.60% RDS.B, -0.21% , moving 1.4% higher. The oil producer posted an 8% decline in yearly profit, to the lowest level in more than a decade. In the fourth quarter, profit fell 44% to $ 1 billion.
“Super Thursday”: Investors will watch to see if recent upbeat economic data for the U.K. will prompt the BOE to change its position on interest rates at its meeting today. Three BOE releases are due for release on “Super Thursday”: the Quarterly Inflation Report, the latest decision on interest rates and minutes from the bank’s policy meeting.
“While the BOE will likely announce higher near-term growth forecasts in today’s inflation report, I still expect the central bank to stand by its warning that the economy is on the cusp of an inflation-induced slowdown,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.
The central bank has previously indicated that its next interest rate move is as likely to be a hike as a cut, Erlam noted.
“Any suggestion that this has tipped slightly in favor of a hike could send the pound higher, which could see it test 1.28-1.2850 against the dollar, an important level for the pair,” he said.
Sterling GBPUSD, +0.3476% was buying $ 1.2684, compared with $ 1.2656 late Wednesday in New York.
The pound has slid from around $ 1.50 since the June Brexit referendum. On Wednesday night, the U.K. parliament voted to move forward with allowing the government to trigger Article 50, which will start the Brexit process.
The BOE’s three releases are due at 12 p.m. London time, or 7 a.m. Eastern Time. The bank’s Governor Mark Carney will take part in a press conference at 12:30 p.m. London time.
U.K. lawmakers trade barbs in Brexit debate
Lawmakers in the U.K. had a heated debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, ahead of a vote on triggering Article 50, the beginning of the process of the withdrawal of the U.K. from the European Union.
Other movers: Shares in Compass Group PLC CPG, +2.51% rose 2.8% after the support services group reported growth in quarterly organic revenue and said the pound’s slump would boost its full-year earnings.