LONDON MARKET: Stocks set to rise if US rates stabilise

UNITED KINGDOM stocks are likely to gain, buoyed by banks and insurers, including Lloyds TSB Group, on optimism that US interest rates do not need to rise much further to quell inflation.

Phone stocks may be active as Vodafone AirTouch, the world's largest mobile phone operator, reports earnings. Telecom companies led the 2.4 per cent gain in the FT-SE 100 last week.

Lloyds, HSBC Holdings, Barclays and Standard Chartered may all gain as expectations of stable rates boost demand for new loans.

A report on Tuesday is expected to show UK retail prices rose 0.2 per cent in October, down from 0.4 per cent in September, according to 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. On Tuesday, the Government reports retail sales for October.

Insurers, including Prudential, CGU and Royal & SunAlliance, may advance if those reports show benign inflation, boosting the value of their bond holdings.

A report showing that productivity among US workers jumped a greater- than-expected 4.2 per cent in the third quarter has improved the chances that the Federal Reserve may keep rates on hold when it meets to set lending costs on Tuesday.

The Fed policymakers left the over- night bank lending rate unchanged at 5.25 per cent on 5 October. Some investors think stocks will gain this week even if US rates rise, as this will signal the final increase for some time.

"I would be surprised if we didn't see a new high for the market soon," said Graham Campbell, head of UK equities at Edinburgh Fund Managers. "I expect a rate increase in the US next week, but after that I don't see any adverse news until well into January."

Vodafone is scheduled to report first-half profit on Tuesday. The company said last month that it had added more than 2.6 million customers in the third quarter.

Northern Foods is also expected to report first-half profit on Tuesday. In July, the maker of Ski yogurt and Fox's biscuits said sales rose 5 per cent in the first 15 weeks of 1999, bolstered by acquisitions.

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