The FTSE 100 Index ticked higher today as widespread protests ahead of Thursday’s G20 summit failed to unsettle blue-chip stocks.
Trading was thin as many dealers stayed away, but those who were at their desks found some cheer in better than expected manufacturing data from the US.
This helped the Footsie out of the red in a strong finish to the session, eventually closing 29.5 points higher at 3955.6.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1% as investors absorbed new of a lower than feared decline in manufacturing activity in March. This followed UK survey data showing a similar trend.
But the overall market is treading water until the outcome of the much-touted summit can be assessed, as well as the latest rates decision from the European Central Bank tomorrow and US jobs figures due on Friday.
Broker comment also played part in many firms’ fortunes on a slow day for corporate news. Among financials, Lloyds Banking Group added 0.3p to 71p and RBS - which had its Threadneedle Street branch in the City attacked by protestors today – cheered 0.6p to 25.1p despite JP Morgan cutting its target price on the pair.
HSBC also shrugged off a downgrade to add 15.75p to 410.75p. Barclays fared better after JP Morgan edged its target price higher, helping shares firm 9p to 157p.
Oil prices sliding below 48 dollars a barrel weighed on the petrochemical heavyweights, however, keeping the wider index underwater.
Traders cited poor economic news from the US, Japan and China for the decline, as well as rising stockpiles. Royal Dutch Shell lost 29p to 1502p, and BP - marked down by Goldman Sachs – fell 10.5p to 461p.
Many miners were also lower in a mixed session after metal prices eased. BHP Billiton – downgraded by Morgan Stanley – was off 14p at 1371p, while Eurasian Natural Resources slid 2.75p to 448.5p. Xstrata however was the Footsie’s biggest riser, up 43.75p to 510.5p.
Retailers also experienced a boost, as yesterday’s better than expected sales figures from retail giant Marks & Spencer continued to lift spirits. Marks rose 13.25p to 309.25p.
Homebase owner Home Retail Group was a prominent riser, up 17.5p at 242.25p, while Next was ahead 86p to 1410p.
In the FTSE 250 Debenhams rebounded 4.75p to 52.75p after an upgrade from Citigroup brokers.
But back in the top flight BT suffered a tricky session after being marked down to sell by Goldman Sachs. The firm was the Footsie’s biggest faller at one stage but clawed back much of its losses to stand 1.6p ahead at 79.8p by the close.
Elsewhere, Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s rose almost 9% as it revealed a 14% hike in half-year sales and confirmed expansion plans remained on track. Shares were up 5p to 66.5p.
The biggest Footsie risers were Xstrata ahead 43.75p at 510.5p, Home Retail Group up 17.5p at 242.25p, Next up 86p at 1410p and Old Mutual up 3.3p at 55.2p.
The biggest Footsie fallers were Shire down 29.5p at 833.5p, Inmarsat off 13.25p at 476p, BP down 10.5p to 461p and Reed Elsevier, which closed off 10p at 491p.