(Alliance News) - Stock prices in London were lower at midday Tuesday, ahead of slew of US data which could help determine the course of interest rates.

The FTSE 100 index was down 10.79 points, 0.1%, at 7,673.51. The FTSE 250 was down 19.91 points, 0.1%, at 19,107.01, and the AIM All-Share was down 1.02 points, 0.1%, at 744.79.

The Cboe UK 100 was down 0.1% at 768.73, the Cboe UK 250 was flat at 16,487.42, and the Cboe Small Companies was up 0.7% at 14,516.62.

In European equities on Tuesday, the CAC 40 in Paris was down marginally, while the DAX 40 in Frankfurt was up 0.4%.

"Later tonight a reading of US consumer confidence starts the gun on some big releases across the Atlantic. These could offer insight on whether a soft landing can be engineered for the US economy," said AJ Bell's Danni Hewson.

The US will release its latest economic growth figures on Wednesday, with personal consumption expenditures - which contains a key inflation metric - to follow on Thursday. The PCE reading is closely followed by the Federal Reserve when making decisions on interest rates.

According to FXStreet-cited consensus, the headline annual PCE inflation rate is to ease to 2.4% in January, from 2.6% in December. The core reading, the Fed's preferred inflationary gauge, is to ebb to 2.8% from 2.9%.

Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, said there are "concerns" regarding inflation's trajectory.

"An uptick in inflation is not good news for the Fed doves, who already dropped the expectation that the Fed would cut rates by March, and then by May, and now they are trimming the June cut expectations. The expectation of a June Fed cut is given around 60% chance before this week's inflation figures are released. This probability was around 70% just yesterday," Ozkardeskaya said.

Stocks in New York were called higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was called up marginally, meanwhile both the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq Composite are called up 0.1%.

The pound was quoted at USD1.2680 at midday on Tuesday in London, higher compared to USD1.2676 at the equities close on Monday. The euro stood at USD1.0849, unchanged from a day earlier. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY150.27, down compared to JPY150.81.

UK grocery price inflation dropped to two-year low in the UK, as shoppers prioritised savings on Valentine's Day, new data on Tuesday showed.

Annual UK grocery price inflation in February eased to 5.3% in February, marking the lowest rate since March 2022 and down from 6.8% from January.

Kantar said grocery sales in the 12 weeks to February 18 were up 5.1% annually to GBP35.37 billion from GBP33.64 billion.

In the 12 weeks, Tesco saw a 6.2% sales rise to GBP9.76 billion compared to the same period a year before. Tesco's market share ticked up to 27.6% from 27.3%, defending its position as the UK's largest grocer.

J Sainsbury's sales rose 7.6% to GBP5.51 billion, as its market share increased to 15.6% from 15.2%.

Ocado Retail sales rose 4.9% to GBP659 million, as its market share was unchanged at 1.9%. The online-only grocer is a joint venture between Ocado Group and Marks & Spencer.

Tesco lost 0.5% and Ocado was down 0.1%. Meanwhile, Sainsbury's rose by 0.3%, and Marks & Spencer jumped 0.8%.

In the FTSE 100, Croda slumped 3.7%, after it reported a hefty drop in annual profitability.

The chemicals firm said sales fell 19% year-on-year to GBP1.69 billion from GBP2.09 billion, with the year hit by prolonged destocking and a weak macroeconomic environment. Company-compiled consensus had expected GBP1.71 billion for 2023.

Pretax profit slumped by 70% to GBP236.3 million from GBP780.0 million, though the prior year saw GBP356.0 million in divestment profit. Adjusted pretax profit fell 33% to GBP308.8 million from GBP463 million.

Amongst London's small-caps, On the Beach shot up 13%.

The beach package holiday retailer signs a long-term distribution agreement with budget airline Ryanair.

OTB customers will be able to access Ryanair's flights as part of their holiday packages with "full price transparency", while continuing to utilise OTB's flexible payment plans, customer perks and Air Travel Organisers' Licensing protection, OTB says.

The agreement "enables both parties to move on from outstanding litigation". OTB had previously sued Ryanair for some GBP2 million over refunds due after flights were cancelled or changed.

On AIM, Itim surged 56%.

The provider of software solutions to retail companies announces a "multi-million" pound omnichannel contract win with Quiz, a clothing retailer.

The contract, which will run for five years, is a "significant achievement" with Quiz being the first fashion retailer to implement Itim's end-to-end retail platform in addition to its new wholesale module.

Shares in Quiz fell 2.3%.

Brent oil was quoted at USD81.56 a barrel at midday in London on Tuesday, down from USD82.18 late Monday. Gold was quoted at USD2,034.92 an ounce, up against USD2,028.18.

By Sophie Rose, Alliance News senior reporter

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