(Alliance News) - Stock prices in London opened mixed on Tuesday, as investors look ahead to a day of economic data.

The FTSE 100 index opened down 23.82 points, 0.3%, at 7,616.51. The FTSE 250 was up 9.02 points at 19,258.10, and the AIM All-Share was down 2.36 points, 0.3%, at 735.33.

The Cboe UK 100 was down 0.3% at 763.23, the Cboe UK 250 was up slightly at 16,596.27, and the Cboe Small Companies was down 0.1% at 14,483.91.

In European equities on Tuesday, the CAC 40 in Paris was down 0.1%, while the DAX 40 in Frankfurt was down 0.2%.

In China, the Shanghai Composite closed up 0.3%, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong was down 2.6% in late dealings.

China set on Tuesday a growth target of around five percent for 2024, an ambitious objective that the leaders of the world's second-largest economy admitted would be a challenge to meet.

Premier Li Qiang formally announced the growth goal, alongside the overall budget and key government policies for 2024, as China's annual National People's Congress kicked off Tuesday.

Addressing thousands of delegates, Li warned that "achieving this year's targets will not be easy".

"The foundation for China's sustained economic recovery and growth is not solid enough," he said.

Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, said the "targets are ambitious."

"Of course, the Chinese Premier said that he will need policy support to achieve his goals. He does, indeed, need a lot of support and even then no one guarantees the return of investment and spending," Ozkardeskaya added.

Meanwhile, according to new survey data on Tuesday, business activity in China continued to expand in February, led by the country's services sector.

The Caixin services purchasing managers' index edged down to 52.5 points in February from 52.7 in January. Remaining above the neutral 50-point mark, the figure shows the sector continued to grow.

However, it marked the slowest pace of expansion since November last year and came in slightly lower than FXStreet-cited market consensus of 52.9 points.

Tuesday's economic calendar has a slew of PMI data from the eurozone at 0900 GMT, before the UK at 0930 GMT and US at 1445 GMT.

Attention will then promptly turn to Wednesday, which will see the start of a key few days on the fiscal and monetary policy fronts.

A pre-election budget will be the key event in the UK this week. On Wednesday, eyes will be on whether UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will size up some tax relief. In the eurozone, focus will be on the European Central Bank's interest rate decision on Thursday. In the US, the latest jobs report on Friday will be the main event.

The pound was quoted at USD1.2676 early on Tuesday in London, lower compared to USD1.2696 at the equities close on Monday. The euro stood at USD1.0849, down against USD1.0858. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY150.37, lower compared to JPY150.51.

In the FTSE 100, Intertek rose 3.1% to the top of the index.

Intertek reported that revenue in 2023 rose 4.3% to GBP3.33 billion from GBP3.19 billion a year earlier. Pretax profit edged up 0.6% to GBP422.3 million from GBP419.8 million.

On the back of the results, Intertek proposed a final dividend of 74.0p per share, up from 71.6p. This brings the full year dividend up 5.6% annually to 111.7p.

Ashtead plummeted 8.1%.

In its third quarter ended January 31, revenue rose to USD2.66 billion from USD2.43 billion a year earlier. Pretax profit fell 12% to USD442 million from USD505 million, however.

In London's FTSE 250, Spirent Communications surged 58%.

The Crawley, England-based automated test and assurance solutions provider said it has agreed on its acquisition by Viavi Solutions for 175p per share in cash. Spirent shareholders will receive 172.5p cash, plus a 2.5p special dividend.

The acquisition, which values the company at GBP1.01 billion, as been recommended to be voted for by Spirent's board.

Also on Tuesday, Spirent reported its full year results for 2023.

Spirent said revenue fell to USD474.3 million from USD607.5 million Pretax profit plummeted to USD22.9 million from USD114.6 million. Spirent declared no final dividend, despite paying out a final dividend of 4.94 US cents a year ago.

Keller rose 5.7%.

The London-based geotechnical engineering firm reported that revenue in 2023 rose to GBP2.97 billion from GBP2.94 billion a year earlier. Pretax profit surged to GBP125.6 million from GBP56.3 million.

On the back of the results, Keller upped its dividend by 20% to 45.2p from 37.7p.

"Whilst political and macro-economic uncertainties will undoubtedly remain and impact our markets in the short term, our current level of trading together with our robust order book mean that we enter the new year with confidence," CEO Michael Speakman said.

Amongst London's small-caps, Reach rose 10%.

Reach reported that in the 53 weeks ended December 31, revenue fell 5.4% to GBP568.6 million from GBP601.4 million a year earlier. Pretax profit fell to GBP36.7 million from GBP66.2 million.

Reach kept its dividend unchanged at 7.34p.

CEO Jim Mullen said: "This year we have successfully gained clarity on two significant long-term uncertainties in pension funding and Historical Legal Issues. With the end of these issues in sight, we have significantly reduced our obligations and have a clear path forward for the business."

In the US on Monday, Wall Street ended lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 0.3%, the S&P 500 down 0.1% and the Nasdaq Composite down 0.4%.

Brent oil was quoted at USD82.65 a barrel early in London on Tuesday, down from USD83.37 late Monday. Gold was quoted at USD2,121.33 an ounce, up against USD2,116.16.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo was down slightly. The S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney closed down 0.2%.

By Sophie Rose, Alliance News senior reporter

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