Stock markets rally as Donald Trump plays Santa over tax

As the year draws to an end, the Dow and FTSE 100 are close to record highs but there could be some volatility ahead

Its a tradition of stock markets that December usually sees a Santa rally. This year, though, weve had a tax rally, thanks to Donald Trumps business-friendly fiscal reforms, which finally made their tortuous way through the US legislative process.

With just a few days left until the end of the year, US and UK markets are close to their record highs, with the FTSE 100 hitting a new peak a couple of days ago. Despite this belated achievement, the UK index has lagged others throughout the year, and even though European markets have fallen back recently on political concerns German uncertainty and the latest Catalan election result they have still outpaced UK shares thanks to Brexit worries and a recovering pound.

But there is still a week to go and although the FTSE 100 is unlikely to make up lost ground on Europe and the US, it could still push to new peaks, as could Wall Street. A dearth of news is likely to make for some lacklustre volumes, but consequently could lead to volatility. Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG, summed it up: [The week ahead] promises to be a quiet one, as the corporate calendar dries up and the economic schedule is quite bereft. Now tax reform is out of the way, the last question for the year is, will the Dow hit 25,000? At present, it seems unwilling to move higher, but given the light volumes of next week there is still a chance to pull one more rabbit from the hat.

Chilly reality awaits retailers after basking in Christmas glow

Today is the final shopping day before Christmas and high street retailers will be hoping that consumers are out in force looking for last-minute gifts. And that theyll come back on Boxing Day for the sales.

Shopkeepers continue to face severe difficulties, with growing competition from online businesses and a squeeze on household finances, as well as heftyrate bills.

Christmas used to be the key time of the year, but these days retailers fear that the Black Friday event cannibalises festive sales, with customers picking up bargains in November rather than paying full price in December. Indeed, according to a CBI report last week, sales in the run-up to Christmas rose by less than expected. Even the hoped-for boost on Boxing Day may be curtailed by people ordering goods online as soon as the Christmas turkey is eaten.

So look out this coming week for any retail profit warnings, with companies obliged to update the stock market as soon as they know they will not meet City expectations.

Last year saw a warning from Next about its poor Christmas performance that sent the whole sector into a tailspin, while previous years had seen the likes of Game Digital, Sports Direct and Debenhams report worse-than-expected seasonal sales.

As it happens, Next was the biggest riser on the FTSE 100 on Friday: so perhaps we should expect good news this time.

Pre-new-year is the time for the annual meeting

Anyone looking for a bit of entertainment in the post-Christmas and pre-new-year lull might be spoiled for choice at least if they are shareholders in a clutch of companies that have chosen one of the quietest weeks of the year to hold their annual meetings.

In London? Then Sirius Petroleum is the one for you. The company recently raised $9m to start drilling at a well in Nigeria, and Wednesday is the day when investors can catch up with all the gripping details.

The same day in Reading, IT group cloudBuy is asking investors to approve a 3.4m cash injection from one of its main shareholders, Roberto Sella. It says that, despite a recent cost-cutting programme, it needs some form of additional funding to avoid the prospect of insolvency, so it may be worth shareholders making the effort.

The following two days see, firstly, drug development group Evgen Pharma asking investors to turn up in Wilmslow, and then, on Friday, Andalas Energy and Power expecting people to trek to the Isle of Man to quiz directors. Both companies are also asking for approval of fundraising.

Still, with luck, there may be some refreshment at the meetings. Its the least the companies could do to justify the unsociable timing of their gatherings. Lets hope its not just leftover turkey sandwiches and unwanted mince pies.

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