By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch
U.K. inflation report due later should be a barometer for BOE
U.K. stocks flickered higher and lower Tuesday, searching for direction as investors remained on watch for signs of another selloff, and as U.S. stock markets looked set to stumble.
A reading on U.K. inflation, watched closely by Bank of England policy makers, is scheduled for release later.
Mining stocks largely bucked the losing trend, aided by stronger prices for metals.
What are markets doing?
The FTSE 100 has been moving in and out of positive territory, last rising nearly 2 points at 7,1780.51. The index had opened 0.3% higher. On Monday, the benchmark jumped 1.2%, breaking a two-session losing run.
The basic materials group had the strongest showing among sectors, while utility, telecom and consumer goods shares were in the red.
The pound traded at $1.3869. compared with $1.3837 late Monday in New York.
What's driving the markets
A new round of volatility washed over U.K. and European equity markets, with markets largely starting with modest gains before flipping lower, not following up on gains made Monday on Wall Street.
A new round of mild volatility was washing over U.K. and European equity markets, which largely started with modest gains before flipping lower. A recovery in U.S. stocks, which often set a lead for U.K. equities, looked poised to falter Tuesday morning, with Dow futures down almost 100 points.
But gains for metals prices such as copper and gold buoyed shares of mining companies listed in London. Metals prices denominated in dollars found strength on the back of a softening in the U.S. dollar .
What's on the economic docket
The U.K. government's report on inflation for January is scheduled for release Tuesday. The data is tracked by BOE policy makers in plotting the path of interest rates, with a target of 2% inflation.
Last week, the BOE signaled that it expects to raise interest rates at a faster pace than it previously anticipated, if the global economic recovery and U.K. wage growth continue to strengthen. That message was reiterated Monday in a speech by Bank of England policy maker Gertjan Vlieghe.
Inflation in January is expected to rise to 2.9% on a year-over-year basis, according to a FactSet consensus survey. The rate was 3% in December. The report from the Office for National Statistics is set for release at 9:30 a.m. London time, or 4:30 a.m. Eastern Time.
The FTSE already started the day on a downbeat note following a weak finish in the U.S. on Wednesday , which continued into Thursday's session on Wall Street .
What strategists are saying
"The inflation report will be one of the key pieces of data for the pound this week," said Konstantinos Anthis, an analyst at ADS Securities, in a note.
"The report is too close to call but given the bullish bias coming from the BOE and their intention to further tighten their interest rate policy the risk is obviously to the upside. A 3% reading will again remind investors that inflation is not easily subdued and it will point towards a fresh rate increase in the next months which should send the pound rallying," he said.
Stocks in focus
TUI AG climbed 3% after the vacation services company posted a narrower net loss of 99.6 million euros ($112.7 million) for the first quarter and backed its full-year guidance .
Among mining stocks, Anglo American PLC (>> Anglo American) gained 1.2%, as did Glencore PLC (>> Glencore) and Randgold Resources PLC (>> Randgold Resources) picked up 0.5%.
BHP Billiton PLC shares (>> BHP Billiton Plc) (>> BHP Billiton Limited) (>> BHP Billiton Limited) were up 0.5%. The iron ore producer said it expects to recognize a $1.8 billion income-tax expense to reflect the reduction in the U.S. federal corporate-tax rate and other changes.
Leading decliners on the FTSE 100, telecom company BT Group PLC (BT.A.LN) fell 0.9%, insurer Admiral Group PLC (>> Admiral Group) and consumer products heavyweight Unilever (>> Unilever) lost 0.7%.