FTSE down despite retail news

The FTSE 100 Index drifted into the red today despite continuing optimism over many blue-chip retail stocks.

The likes of Marks & Spencer and Next were helped by healthy half-year figures from department store chain Debenhams, giving some grounds for cheer from the high street.

The Footsie was in positive territory for much of the day, but eventually closed 12.4 points lower at 4018.2 as disappointing jobs figures from the US offset upbeat corporate news and sent Wall Street's Dow Jones Industrial Average lower.

Despite the wider market fall, retailers maintained their recent rally a day after broker Citigroup reviewed its position in the sector with a series of price upgrades.

With WH Smith also reporting solid half-year results, the signs of a return in consumer confidence meant top-flight fashion retailer Next rose 94p to 1529p and Argos firm Home Retail Group added 15p to 279p.

M&S improved 10.75p to 340p and B&Q owner Kingfisher cheered 4.5p to 179.3p.

Debenhams set the pace in the FTSE 250 after it announced a 10.7% rise in half-year profits and said current like-for-like sales were up 1.9%.

Shares jumped 22% or 13.75p to 77.25p as analysts suggested that the strong trading figures reduced the need for the company to carry out a rights issue.

WH Smith shares were ahead 5p to 415p as investors welcomed a 17% rise in the company's dividend payment, alongside optimistic comments from chief executive Kate Swann.

Back in the top flight, shares in testing and inspection firm Intertek were soaring amid speculation of possible bid interest. Shares were almost 10% or 78p higher at 1004p.

Many miners were also on the front foot, led by platinum firm Lonmin - which leapfrogged Intertek to top the Footsie risers board after pleasing investors with second-quarter production figures.

Lonmin was 118p ahead at 1357p - or 10% - while elsewhere in the sector Rio Tinto added 99p to 2571p and Vedanta Resources gained 16p to 935p.

The exception was Eurasian Natural Resources, a heavy top-flight casualty after a downgrade from HSBC brokers. Shares lost 37p to 550.5p.

Among the banks, Lloyds Banking Group was 4.5p lower at 96p after announcing plans to axe nearly 1,000 jobs. Barclays, which rode out a minor protest vote from investors at its annual meeting today, was 0.75p lighter at 217.25p.

But business software firm Autonomy added 89p to 1378p after it posted strong first-quarter results and said it expected upgrades to analyst estimates for 2009. Fellow software firm Sage also climbed the leaders' board, up 10p to 183p.

However, Mecca firm Rank slid almost 9% in the second tier, or 6.5p to 67.5p, after it warned on profits yesterday in the wake of a surprise hike in bingo duty and poker tax in the Budget.

The biggest Footsie risers were Lonmin up 118p at 1357p, Intertek up 78p at 1004p, Autonomy up 89p at 1378p and Next up 94p at 1529p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Schroders down 56.5p at 760.5p, ENR off 37p at 550.5p, Aviva down 13p at 239.25p and British Land down 21.25p at 424.75p.

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