Next and M&S boost FTSE

Marks & Spencer shares rose by more than 3% today after rival fashion chain Next delivered a reassuring update on current trading.

As well as the boost from Next, investors cheered better-than-expected performances from accountancy firm Sage and consumer products giant Unilever. The pair were up by more than 8% and 4% respectively, but the gains were insufficient to offset falls elsewhere for the London market.

The FTSE 100 Index stood 17.6 points lower at 6243.4 by mid-morning, with sentiment affected by a sell-off on Wall Street on Wednesday night and uncertainty ahead of the Bank of England’s monthly decision on interest rates.

Next’s gain of 6% or 69p to 1297p came after it said recent warm weather offset a tough first quarter of the year, keeping it on course to meet forecasts for full-year profits. M&S was the major beneficiary, rising 13.75p to 409.25p, while Argos owner Home Retail Group cheered 6p to 274p.

Unilever lifted 72p to 1734p as it successfully passed on rising costs and said underlying sales were likely to rise by more than 5% this year. That was ahead of its previous estimate for growth of between 3% and 5%.

Elsewhere, accountancy software group Sage saw its shares jump 16.5p to 227.5p after half-year profits came in ahead of expectations and it said recurring subscription contracts would protect it in tougher economic times.

There was little respite for British Airways after shares fell 7.75p to 234.25p, reflecting a broker downgrade from Cazenove and ongoing woes stemming from oil prices of more than 123 US dollars a barrel.

In the FTSE 250 Index, kitchen equipment firm Enodis jumped 16%, or 40.75p at 284.25p, after it changed takeover camps and backed a £1 billion offer from American firm Illinois Tool Works.

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