FTSE flat as Ofgem increases energy price cap and pound strengthens

FTSE 100 LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2022/11/14: People walk along Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as thick fog covers the capital. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The FTSE 100 fell 0.2% after opening, feeling the drag from further weakness in oil prices on the back of rising COVID cases in China. Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

European stock markets lacked any real momentum on Thursday, with London’s benchmark index underperforming against its peers thanks to a stronger pound (GBPUSD=X).

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) ended 0.1% higher on the day, feeling the drag from further weakness in oil prices (BZ=F) on the back of rising COVID cases in China. Meanwhile, the CAC (^FCHI) rose 0.5% in Paris, and the DAX (^GDAXI) was 0.8% higher in Frankfurt.

Sterling continued to gain against the US dollar to reach $1.2126 at the time of writing — a rise of 0.6% during the session. It hit $1.2131 earlier on Thursday afternoon, its highest level since mid-August.

Meanwhile, energy regulator Ofgem revealed on Thursday that the energy price cap will rise from £3,549 to £4,279 starting in January.

This means that the government will have to fork out nearly £1,800 per household over the year, after capping bills at £2,500 under its energy price guarantee.

Ofgem said: “There is no immediate action for consumers to take as a result of today’s announcement.”

It came as European natural gas prices dropped more than 6% as EU ministers aim to resolve their differences on capping prices. A decision has been delayed until mid-December.

Read more: UK manufacturers suffer worst drop in new orders for two years

Across the pond on Wall Street, US stock markets were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

On Wednesday night, minutes from the Federal Reserve meeting pointed to support for a slower pace of rate rises, which sent Wall Street higher.

The S&P 500 (^GSPC) rose 0.6%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) gained 0.3%. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) closed 1% up.

The Bank of England (BoE) is also expected to raise its own interest rates by another 50 basis points in December, from 3% to 3.5%.

Watch: How does inflation affect interest rates?

Michael Hewson of CMC Markets said: “Last night’s Fed minutes reaffirmed the initial market reaction to the Fed statement earlier this month with most officials backing the slowing of the pace of hikes soon, with several officials seeing risks from further rapid hikes.

“This tone reinforces the narrative that 50bps is coming in December with subsequent hikes likely to be between 25bps and 50bps.

“That’s not to say that members didn’t hedge those bets with an expectation that rates might peak at a higher level than envisaged, to offset any misconceptions that the Fed might be going soft, but for now markets appear to be going with the smaller hike narrative, rather than the Powell hawkish theme.”

Read more: UK public borrowing surges as energy bill support takes effect

Bond yields declined on the back of the news. The yield on the 10-year benchmark US government debt, which influences mortgage rates, slipped to 3.69% from 3.76%.

Elsewhere, Asian shares were mostly higher on Thursday amid news of fresh economic stimulus from China.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei (^N225) climbed almost 1% while the Hang Seng (^HSI) rose 0.8% in Hong Hong, and the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) dipped 0.3% on the day.

Watch: What is a recession and how do we spot one?