FTSE closes in the red

Embattled transport group National Express saw shares race ahead today after news of a higher £765m (€875m) takeover approach from its biggest shareholder.

The FTSE 250 Index firm is now mulling over the take-it-or-leave-it proposal from Spain’s Cosmen family, which owns 18.5% of the firm and has been working with buy-out firm CVC.

Today’s takeover development added some sparkle in an otherwise quiet session for blue chip corporate news, with the benchmark FTSE 100 Index closing down 20.8 points at 4796.8.

The top flight has now closed in the red for the third straight session after the recent rally has apparently run out of steam.

Wall Street has also suffered lacklustre trading since the end of August and today hung close to its opening mark as unemployment figures showed a smaller than expected drop last week.

US retailers also reported a sales declines for August as shoppers held back on back-to-school purchases and continued to focus on necessities, although overall results came in ahead of analyst predictions.

In London, gold miner Randgold Resources led blue-chips higher as the precious metal hit three-month highs near $1,000 an ounce.

Randgold added 9% or 333p to 4022p, closely followed by silver miner Fresnillo and Lonmin – up 52p to 655p and 81p to 1442p respectively – as a weaker dollar and the recent turbulence encouraged investors into traditional safe havens.

Although miners dominated the risers’ board, banks also made up ground lost in the previous session, with Royal Bank of Scotland up 1.7p to 55p and Lloyds Banking Group up 0.29p to 99.7p.

Among the fallers, Guinness drinks giant Diageo lost 15.5p to 953p after French rival Pernod Ricard warned of a tough year ahead for the industry.

But it was second tier transport firm National Express that took centre stage on the London market today, soaring 53.9p to 465.9p or 13% thanks to the improved offer from the Cosmen consortium.

Rival Stagecoach also said it had agreed an outline deal with the suitors to take on National Express’s UK rail and bus business following a takeover. Its shares rose 12%, or 15.1p to 145.9p.

Elsewhere in the second tier, recruitment firm Hays was down 1.75p to 98.05p after reporting a 43% fall in full-year profits.

Full-year results from transport group Go-Ahead were more warmly received, with shares up 68p to 1371p after the company said robust trading in its bus division helped offset faltering revenues growth in rail.

But shares in music and games retailer HMV were 3.2p lower at 111.5p following a steady trading update and a £7m (€8m) deal to take a 50% stake in 7digital, which will become the group’s e-commerce platform.

Housebuilder Bovis lost 11.5p to 497p as analysts backed a placing of up to 12 million new shares in order to raise £60m (€69m) towards possible cut-price land acquisitions.

The biggest Footsie risers were Randgold Resources up 333p at 4022p, Fresnillo ahead 52p at 655p, Lonmin up 81p at 1442p and Xstrata up 38.5p at 817.5p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Experian down 15.7p at 499.3p, Thomas Cook off 5.5p at 229.8p, GlaxoSmithKline down 27p at 1177p and Unilever down 37p at 1629p.

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