BP results leave FTSE down

Disappointment at BP’s annual profits haul of more than £11 billion left the London market deep in the red today.

BP’s profits figure dipped below City expectations after a challenging fourth quarter for the oil giant, particularly as a result of the vicious hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shares dropped 3% – off 18p at 647.5p – and also weighed on Royal Dutch Shell as the FTSE 100 Index closed 25.6 points lower at 5746.8.

Shell, which posted record profits for a UK company last week, dipped 26p to 1913p, while smaller exploration company Cairn Energy eased 72p to 1832p, a drop of 4%. The trio account for around 20% of the value of the Footsie.

The retail sector was the other point of interest after investors got to digest disappointing figures from the British Retail Consortium and the surprise news that Boots and Alliance UniChem had passed a key regulatory hurdle.

With retail like-for-like sales up 0.2% in January – the weakest start to a year for more than a decade – shares in Dixons owner DSG International fell 3.5p to 172.25p, B&Q owner Kingfisher dipped 1p to 226p and Marks & Spencer fell back below £5, down 6.25p to 495.25p, a drop of more than 1%.

Boots bucked the trend after avoiding a lengthy Competition Commission inquiry into its £7 billion merger with Alliance UniChem.

With the deal gaining provisional clearance, shares in Boots rose 9.5p to 684.5p, while Alliance UniChem cheered 3% or 22.5p to 882.5p.

The pair were beaten to the top of the risers board by fund manager Amvescap after its full-year results bettered expectations. The stock rose 5% or 27p to 534.5p, lifting other stocks in the financial sector with Man Group up 41p at 2123p and Schroders ahead 16.5p at 1106.5p.

Figures from Aviva enjoyed a similar reaction as investors welcomed better-than-expected fourth quarter sales figures and comments from the Norwich Union owner that it had good momentum in the UK market in 2006.

Shares were up 6.5p at 734p, but failed to lift the rest of the sector as Prudential fell 2.5p to 564.5p and Friends Provident eased 1.25p at 205p.

Elsewhere, Cable & Wireless cheered half a penny to 101.75p as the ailing telecoms company continued its tentative recovery following a profits warning last week.

The main interest outside the top flight was on the retail sector as investors speculated on vague rumours about a possible takeover of Woolworths. The high street retailer rose 6% or 2p to 34.5p, with Matalan up 7.5p at 180.5p and WH Smith ahead 10.75p at 408.75p.

The biggest Footsie risers were Amvescap up 27p at 534.5p, BT Group ahead 6.25p at 213.5p, Alliance UniChem up 22.5p at 882.5p and 3i Group ahead 19.5p at 918.5p.

The biggest fallers were Cairn Energy down 72p at 1832p, PartyGaming off 4.5p at 127.75p, Anglo American down 61p at 2087p and BP off 18p at 647.5p.

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