StockMarketWire.com - UK stocks opened 0.5% higher on Friday, buoyed by better-than-expected Chinese economic data.

At 0845, the benchmark FTSE 100 index was up 35.9 points, or 0.5%, at 7.645.71.

Chinese gross domestic product slowed to 6.1% in 2019, in line with government targets, with growth stabilising at 6.0% in the fourth quarter despite trade ructions with the US.

On the local corporate front, British Airways owner International Consolidated Airlines ascended 4.9% to 669.8p after it removed a limit on the number of its shares that could be owned by non-Europeans investors.

Mining company Rio Tinto firmed 1.5% to £45.945, despite reporting a 3% fall in annual iron ore production from key operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia state, owing to weather and operational challenges.

The company also posted lower copper and aluminium output, but a rise in bauxite and titanium production.

Insurance provider Hastings slumped 6.5% to 173.1p as it warned on profit and said it would cut its dividend after being hit by elevated claims costs.

Hastings said it expected its dividend for the year through December to be lower, without being specific, but above its 65-75% target payout range.

Gulf region focused hospital operator NMC Health rallied 6.7% to £15.375, on announcing that it had hired a former US federal judge and FBI director to address allegations about the health of its balance sheet lobbed by short-seller Muddy Waters.

NMC Health said its independent review committee had retained Louis Freeh and his firm Freeh Group International Solutions to examine the claims and compile a report.

Information services company Experian was flat at £26.20 as its revenue rose 9% in its fiscal third quarter, led by 'strong' growth in North America amid a boost from acquisitions.

Fitness club operator The Gym Group strengthened 0.7% to 312p after its annual revenue rose by nearly quarter following a jump in membership numbers.

Premier Foods edged back 0.2% to 42.9p even as its sales rose 2.6% in its fiscal third quarter, underpinned by healthy demand for its Mr. Kipling cakes.

Meat retailer Cranswick crackled 7.1% higher to £36.36, having upgraded its profit outlook on the back of a 'robust' performance over the Christmas period.

Sausage casings provider Devro went in the opposite direction, dropping 6.0% to 168.81p, as it downgraded its profit outlook on disappointing second-half sales.

Instrumentation and controls company Spectris added 0.5% to £28.15 after it and partner Macquarie Corporate agreed to sell their EMS Bruel & Kjaer joint venture to Sydney-listed environmental management group Envirosuite.

Spectris said it would itself receive A$35m (£18.5m), less repayment of EMS B&K's debt facility on completion, and 10m shares in Envirosuite.

Betting company GVC shed 0.8% to 926.2p, even as it said it expected profit to be within the top end of recently upgraded forecasts, despite weaker sales in its UK retail business amid increased regulatory action.

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