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What to Watch: Polls lift sterling, Saudi Aramco IPO, tariff deadline worries markets

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
A voter at a polling station in 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Paul Childs

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Pound edges higher on Conservative poll lead

The pound rose against the US dollar (GBPUSD=X) on Wednesday after the latest poll by respected firm YouGov showed that Boris Johnson’s Conservative party is on track to win a majority in the general election on 12 December.

YouGov took polling data from 100,000 panellists across the UK over the past seven days and used a technique known as multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) — a process that helped to correctly predict 93% of the results in the 2017 general election.

The survey suggested that the Tories would snap up 339 seats while Britain’s main opposition party Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, would secure 231.

But a smaller majority—or even a hung parliament—is within the survey’s margin of error.

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Saudi Aramco soars on stock market debut

Participants attend the official ceremony marking the debut of Saudi Aramco's initial public offering. Photo: REUTERS/Marwa Rashad

Saudi Aramco made its stock market debut on the Tadawul exchange in Riyadh on Wednesday in the world’s biggest stock market listing.

It is selling just 0.5% of its shares to individual investors and a further 1% to institutional investors. Most of them are Saudi nationals or based in the Gulf.

Its shares surged 10% above their initial public offering (IPO) price — the maximum that is permitted daily — helping boost the company’s market value.

Saudi Aramco shares hit 35.2 riyal (£7.1; $9.39) each, up from the IPO price of 32 riyals.

A preliminary valuation on Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company put Saudi Aramco between $1.6 trillion (£1.22 trillion) and $1.7 trillion.

Zara and Massimo Dutti owner’s sales soar

Sales at Zara owner Inditex (ITX.MC) jumped 7.5% in the nine months to the end of October, with the clothing juggernaut boosted by the introduction of tracking technology in stores and strong online sales performance.

The Spanish retailer, which also owns Massimo Dutti and Bershka, said that sales rose to €19.8bn (£16.7bn) in the period.

The company pointed to crucial “strategic investments” in technology, as well as in sustainability, for the gains.

All of the group’s brands now operate online stories, and Inditex launched integrated online sales platforms for Zara, Zara Home, and Massimo Dutti in several new countries during the period.

All change at the top as profits drop at Stagecoach

Bus operator Stagecoach (SGC.L) has unveiled a number of changes to its leadership team — leaving only one woman on its board of directors.

Stagecoach also reported a 9% fall in first-half profit, for the six months ended 26 October, blaming poor weather for the drag on earnings at its bus division. Adjusted pretax profit was at £66.6m ($85.45m), compared with £73.1m a year earlier.

In a separate statement to its interim results, it announced that chairman Sir Brian Souter will step down on 31 December and be replaced by Ray O'Toole, who is currently a non-executive director. Souter will now become a non-executive director at the group.

Meanwhile, Souter's sister, Dame Ann Gloag and Sir Ewan Brown will both retire and step down as non-executive directors.

European stocks slip as tariff deadline looms

Several European indices fell for a third day in a big week for markets, with a Federal Reserve meeting today and the deadline looming for fresh US tariffs on Chinese goods.

US president Donald Trump has just days to decide whether he will exacerbate tensions by slapping tariffs on $160bn of Chines products.

The Euro Stoxx 50 (^STOXX50E) slid 0.2% and the French CAC 40 (^FCHI) was 0.3% down.

But the FTSE (FTSE) and the German DAX (^GDAXI) treaded water, flat in mid-morning trading.

Overnight in Asia, the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) rose 0.8%, the Nikkei (^N225) dropped 0.1%, and China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) rose 0.2%.

What to expect in the US

US stocks looked set for a muted open, with Dow Jones futures (YM=F) and S&P 500 futures (ES=F) down 0.1%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) flat.