Mixed news for FTSE investors

The FTSE 100 Index struggled for direction today as the UK's drift into deflation took the shine off upbeat retail results.

Primark owner Associated British Foods and Tesco both advanced after profit figures from the pair impressed investors.

However, news that the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation fell to minus 0.4% last month - the first negative reading since March 1960 - gave the market pause for thought.

Trading was thin as investors held their breath ahead of tomorrow's Budget, meaning the Footsie was up 1.4 points to 3992 by late morning.

The London market's fall came in the wake of inflation data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which also showed a fall in the official Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure, from 3.2% in February to 2.9%.

Financial stocks were on the back foot ahead of the Budget after market talk of a possible plan to scrap high-rate tax relief on pensions. Aviva led the fallers' board, down 12.5p to 261.25p, followed by Prudential, off 12.5p at 368p, and Friends Provident, off 1.7p at 64.3p.

AB Foods led the risers' board with a gain of 6% or 39p to 693p, while Tesco gained 15.8p to 347.9p after it became the first UK retailer to post profits of more than £3bn (€3.37bn). Both firms were also cautiously optimistic on trading prospects.

House builders also saw big rises on the back of reports that the Government was considering a further £1bn (€1.12bn) of support for the industry.

In the FTSE 250, Taylor Wimpey gained almost 9%, up 4p to 49.25p, while Persimmon rose 4% - or 14.25p - to 382.25p

Burberry shares were on the front foot after the luxury goods retailer reported an improved sales trend in recent months. Shares were up 36.5p to 368p as the international retailer added it remained on track to meet City profit expectations.

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