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LONDON MARKETS : FTSE 100 Ends Higher, Helped By Unilever's Leap And Pound's Drop

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02/17/2017 | 06:01pm CEST

By Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch

Sterling falls after disappointing U.K. retail sales

U.K. stocks closed higher Friday, as they got a boost from Unilever PLC's jump on deal news and the pound's drop following discouraging retail sales.

The FTSE 100 rose by 0.3% to end at 7,299.96, after trading in the red in morning action. The blue-chip benchmark scored a 0.6% gain for the week and finished just below a one-month closing high hit Wednesday.

Shares in consumer-products giant Unilever PLC (>> Unilever plc) (>> Unilever) (>> Unilever plc) soared 13%, powered by U.S. packaged-foods heavyweight Kraft Heinz Co. (>> Kraft Heinz Co) announcing that it made a merger proposal to Unilever that was declined.

The pound was trading at $1.2416, down from $1.2494 late Thursday, as traders reacted to a January report on U.K. retail sales (https://www.wsj.com/articles/uk-retail-sales-fall-again-in-january-1487329116). The report showed a month-over-month drop of 0.3%, missing forecasts for a rise.

The retail sales number was "really weak," showing British consumers are starting to feel the squeeze due to a pickup in inflation , said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets UK, in a note.

"The net impact on the currency after the data was bad, and we have seen traders putting more short trades against the sterling-dollar pair," he added.

The FTSE 100 lifted off its session low as sterling slumped. A weaker pound often boosts the London benchmark as around 75% of FTSE companies' sales come from overseas in other currencies.

U.K. investors on Thursday also digested U.S. President Donald Trump's lengthy press conference on Thursday, in which he said he "inherited a mess" at home and abroad, and blasted the news media.

Other movers: Coca-Cola HBC AG's shares closed 4% higher for the FTSE 100's second-biggest gain. The stock built on Thursday's jump of 4.9%, which came after the bottling company said profit rose last year .

AstraZeneca PLC (>> AstraZeneca plc) (>> AstraZeneca plc) rose 1.6% after the drug company announced positive results from a trial of its breast cancer treatment Lynparza.

Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered PLC (>> Standard Chartered PLC) gave up 4.4% for the FTSE's largest loss.

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