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UPDATE 2-UK Stocks-Factors to watch on March 15

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March 15 Britain's FTSE 100 index is seen opening up 13 points on Wednesday, according to financial bookmakers, with futures up 0.1 percent ahead of the cash market open.

* LLOYDS: The British government has reduced its stake in Lloyds Banking Group to just below 3 percent, putting the lender on track to be back in private ownership within the next few months.

* GEM DIAMONDS: Gem Diamonds Ltd reported on Wednesday a 47 percent fall in its full-year pretax profit, hurt by an impairment charge after it mothballed the Ghaghoo mine in Botswana due to a fall in diamond prices.

* HIKMA PHARMACEUTICALS: Drugmaker Hikma Pharmaceuticals Plc said its full-year core operating profit rose 2.4 percent as weakness in its generic drugs business was more than offset by growth in its injectables and branded business.

* SHELL: Australia's top gas producers, led by ExxonMobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell, agreed to boost supply to the country's domestic market to help avert an energy shortage following crisis talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

* POLYMETAL: Russian gold and silver producer Polymetal said on Wednesday its 2016 net earnings rose 79 percent year-on-year to $395 million due to higher prices for precious metals and foreign exchange gains driven by a stronger rouble.

* ASTRAZENECA: AstraZeneca's ovarian cancer drug Lynparza slashed the risk of disease progression in a closely watched clinical trial, boosting its profile against rivals within the novel PARP inhibitor drug class.

* BHP BILLITON: The Escondida copper mine in Chile plans to restart operations after striking workers again rejected an invitation by controlling owner BHP Billiton to return to negotiations, an executive told reporters late Tuesday.

* UNILEVER: Fresh from defending Unilever against an unsolicited $143 billion takeover attempt by Kraft Heinz, CEO Paul Polman said the British government should ensure a level playing field for target companies.

* BREXIT: Sterling fell to an eight-week low against the dollar and the basket of currencies measuring its broader strength on Tuesday, hit by fears of prolonged political jousting over the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union.

* BRITAIN-SCOTLAND: Support for Scottish independence is at its highest ever but it might not be the best time for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to hold a new referendum, a survey by ScotCen's Scottish Social Attitudes said on Wednesday.

* BRITAIN-ECONOMY: Britain's construction industry could lose nearly 200,000 workers from European Union countries if the UK fails to keep access to the bloc's single market, a leading property body said on Wednesday, as it called for help for the sector.

* OIL: U.S. oil prices rose more than 2 percent in early Asian trade on Wednesday, recovering from a three-month low after industry data showed a surprise drawdown in U.S. crude stockpiles and Goldman Sachs put a positive spin on OPEC's compliance with output cuts.

* The UK blue chip FTSE 100 index closed closed 0.1 percent lower on Tuesday, weighed down by banking stocks as Britain gets set to start negotiating its departure from the European Union.

* For more on the factors affecting European stocks, please click on: cpurl://apps.cp./cms/?pageId=livemarkets

TODAY'S UK PAPERS

> Financial Times

> Other business headlines Multimedia versions of Reuters Top News are now available for: * 3000 Xtra : visit topnews.session.rservices.com * For Top News : topnews.reuters.com (Reporting by Siju Varghese; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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