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New record high for FTSE 250, as Sainsbury's share price hits 3-year high

Private equity goes shopping for supermarkets

European markets have got off to a fairly positive start to the week, helped by a decent hand off from Asia, as a weaker US dollar and firmer commodity prices help to push energy and basic resource stocks off their recent lows, with BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Glencore outperforming, along with Tesco.

Europe

The FTSE 250 even managed to eke out a new record high, however as the day has progressed a lack of momentum has seen stocks slip back from their intraday peaks.

We’ve also seen a positive day for the FTSE 100, which has been helped by further M&A chatter, this time for the UK’s number two supermarket, Sainsbury, which has seen its share price retest its 2018 peaks at 341.80p.  

As the tug of war over Morrisons threatens to drive its share price ever higher, overseas buyers appear to be turning their attention to Sainsbury’s which has in the past, been victim to similar takeover interest. A report over the weekend has indicated that private equity group Apollo, are taking a look, at the same time as they consider their options over the Morrisons bid with Fortress.  

This interest has seen Sainsbury shares shoot up over 15%, to the levels they were soon after the fated Asda deal was first mooted. Since then, the shares have underperformed, with the eventual blocking of the Asda takeover helping to set the business back, with the shares drifting down from those 2018 peaks to lows of 172p in March 2020 before rebounding. In the years since then there has been other interest from other external parties who appear to see value in the business, and which could provide an obstacle to any potential sale.

Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky is one such shareholder, increasing his stake in the business over the past few months to just shy of 10%. A few years ago, there was also speculation that the Qatar Investment Authority, might make a bid, and who are currently the biggest institutional shareholder with a 15% holding, although this is down from its peaks of just over 20% a few years ago, with Kretinsky the main buyer. The Qataris were also supportive of the failed Asda deal.

Any interested party will need to convince these two counterparties that they have a credible plan to improve the fortunes of the business. That could prove a significant hurdle to overcome, although everyone has their price, and it remains to be seen what that price might be, or whether a bid will even be made. Given Sainsbury’s size relative to Morrison it certainly won’t be cheap, with any potential deal set to come under the same gaze of the Competition and Markets Authority that blocked the Asda deal.

The irony of all of this is if the CMA hadn’t blocked the Asda deal, on the basis of some fairly questionable logic, we might not be now faced with the possibility that Sainsbury might fall into the potentially predatory hands of private equity. Remind me what the CMA is for again?

Defensives are also on the back foot with the likes of AstraZeneca, Glaxo, SSE and National Grid underperforming, with BT Group also lower.

US

US markets have continued where they left off at the end of last week, opening higher, with the Nasdaq 100 posting a new record high in the process, and the S&P 500 within touching distance of its previous record peaks set earlier this month.   

Paypal shares have received a lift after the company announced it would allow bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in UK wallets starting this week.  

Coinbase Global, Robinhood Markets and MicroStrategy are also higher as bitcoin pops its head back above the $50k level

Uber and Lyft have seen their shares fall back after a California state judge ruled a recent ruling that exempted gig economy workers from state labour laws as unenforceable and unconstitutional. The Prop 22 law from last November allowed companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to classify drivers as independent contractors. Uber’s shares had already been under pressure on reports that the company had registered over 25m shares for a stock sale to fund its acquisition of Cornershop Global.  

Pfizer shares, along with BioNTech shares have also moved higher after the US FDA confirmed that it had granted its Covid-19 vaccine full regulatory approval. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to receive the same approval in fairly short order in the coming days.   

FX

The US dollar has continued its Friday slide, largely as a result of the more positive tone around stock markets, as we start a new week.  The biggest gainers have been the commodity currencies of the Australian and Canadian dollar, which got clobbered last week, and which look as if they could be posting significant daily reversals. The greenback hasn’t been helped by weaker than expected economic data from both the manufacturing and services sector which showed bigger declines in economic activity than expected.

The pound is also slightly stronger despite a rather disappointing services PMI report for August, which saw economic activity fall to its worst levels since February. Dig a little deeper and the outlook was slightly more positive, despite the slowdowns caused by self-isolating staff. Business optimism contributed to the fastest rise in employment numbers since 1998, with the highest growth in the customer facing parts of the UK economy. Price pressures also showed no signs of abating.     

Commodities

After seven successive down days, crude oil prices appear to have found a bit of a short-term base, snapping back strongly, helped by a weaker US dollar, as well as a more positive mood pulling it off three-month lows.

Gold prices are also higher, edging back above $1,800 an ounce once again driven by the softer US dollar, although yields are broadly unchanged. It could also be a consequence of technical buying, having broken above the highs of last week.  

Bitcoin prices have moved back above $50k after PayPal announced that it would allow UK users to buy, sell and hold crypto in their payment wallets, starting this week. This appears to be yet another example of a global company legitimising the use of crypto as it becomes more mainstream. 


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