FTSE finishes down

Standard Life bucked a slide for the FTSE 100 Index today after cheering investors with its latest sales figures.

The Edinburgh-based firm was up more than 3% or 6.9p to 204.6p after posting a smaller-than-expected 7% decline in sales for 2009, helped by a stronger second half of the year as market conditions improved.

The Footsie however finished the session 30.2 points down at 5253.2 after a sluggish opening on Wall Street, where slower than expected service sector growth and poorly-received results from US drugs giant Pfizer soured the mood.

The pound was steady against the dollar at 1.59 and edged higher against the euro at 1.14 as the European Union approved fiscal bailout plans for the Greek economy.

In London, Standard’s update provided a boost to other stocks in the sector, with Prudential up 15.5p to 608.5p.

BP meanwhile picked up 2.3p to 574.3p after heavy falls yesterday following annual results, as its new chairman bought 750,000 shares.

Firmer metal prices meant miners were among the early risers, but slipped back later as the dollar gained strength against the euro. Antofagasta and Lonmin were the sector’s two biggest fallers, down 28p to 901.5p and 56p to 1880p respectively.

Barclays set the pace in the banking sector after a gain of 5.7p to 295.35p. HSBC was 2.2p down to 681.3p after Credit Suisse raised its forecast for pre-tax profits in 2009 and highlighted further improvement in US credit quality.

AstraZeneca was the biggest faller in the top flight after Swiss firm Roche’s annual numbers disappointed analysts and the stock turned ex-dividend, meaning investors are not entitled to the latest payouts.

Astra lost 104p to 2827p, a fall of more than 3%, while GlaxoSmithKline dipped 5p to 1220p ahead of its figures on Thursday.

Outside the FTSE 100, shares in Carpetright were down by more than 2% after the floor coverings retailer reported a slowdown in recent sales growth.

The group said weather conditions meant like-for-like sales were ahead by 2.3% in the 13 weeks to January 30, down from 3.9% in the previous six months.

The stock gave back recent gains to stand 29p lower at 943p.

Party Poker owner PartyGaming moved in the opposite direction, up 0.2p to 285.1p, after analysts praised a strong fourth quarter trading update and said the company’s outlook appeared bullish.

It was joined on the FTSE 250 risers board by a clutch of housebuilders as confidence in the sector continued to show improvement.

Taylor Wimpey led the way with a gain of nearly 4%, up 1.55p to 41.25p, while Redrow was ahead 4.7p to 141.9p and Bellway lifted 14.5p to 775.5p.

The biggest Footsie risers were Standard Life up 6.9 to 204.6p, Prudential up 15.5p to 608.5p, WPP ahead 14.5p to 599.5p and Barclays up 5.7p to 295.35p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were AstraZeneca down 104p to 2827p, Antofagasta off 28p to 901.5p, Lonmin down 56p to 1880p and Xstrata down 30.5p at 1065.5p.

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