Market overview: US mortgage applications rise

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LONDON (ShareCast) - 1350: US mortgage applications rose 2.6 per cent in the week to January 3rd, compared to the previous week's 4.2 per cent decline. "The drop in mortgage applications in December reflects the increase in mortgage interest rates over the past two months," Capital Economics said. "But if the wider economy continues to pick up speed during 2014 as we expect, then mortgage applications should recover."

1342: Big Tobacco companies were lower on Wednesday after reports about a Chinese smoking ban emerged. Imperial Tobacco (LSE: IMT.L - news) was down 2.4% to 2,259p and British American by 1% 3,153.5p just after lunchtime. China's health authority aims to roll out a nationwide smoking ban in public places by the end of 2014, according to the South China Morning Post. The People's Republic is the world's largest cigarette manufacturer and consumer, with more than 300 million smokers, according to national statistics.

1315: Private sector payrolls expanded by 238,000 in December, coming in ahead of the 200,000 forecast by economists and last month's rise of 229,000.

1135: Sainsbury (Berlin: SUY1.BE - news) is still trading in the red (down 1.9 per cent) despite beating consensus forecasts with better-than-expected like-for-like sales performance in its third quarter. Jefferies and Panmure Gordon kept their 'hold' ratings on the stock this morning, with the latter saying that despite Sainsbury remaining its favoured choice among UK food retailers, it has a cautious outlook on the sector as a whole. However, S&P Capital IQ maintained its 'sell' rating for the stock and cut its target price, saying: 'We are increasingly concerned about Sainsbury's weakening balance sheet and do not see any dividend increase in FY 15.' The FTSE 100 is down 29.41 points at 6,726.04.

1100: German factory orders rose by 2.1 per cent month-on-month in November, following a 2.1 per cent fall in the month before (consensus: 1.5 per cent).

1045: Spain's government has announced that it will issue less debt this year than last, 65bn euros worth versus last year's 71.9bn euros.

1030: Shares of Imperial Tobacco are off after analysts at Canaccord cut their recommendation on the shares to sell from hold.

1008: Shares of RSA are solidly ahead this morning after yesterday evening notifying shareholders that it believes the capital deficit at its Irish unit is an isolated incident. The company also confirmed that it does not expect to take further write-downs. FTSE 100 down 24 to 6,732.



0901: UK stocks have started the session slightly lower ahead of this evening's release of the most recent set of Fed minutes Stateside. Leading the charge are shares of RSA, alongside some of yesterday's best performers: IAG, Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) and RBS (LSE: RBS.L - news) . British shop prices dropped by 0.8% year-on-year in December, marking the quickest pace of falling prices since 2006, the BRC reported this morning. House prices fell by 0.6% in December, figures from Halifax have revealed. FTSE 100 down 17 to 6,738.

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