Retailers centre of action as edgy investors play safe

RETAIL stocks were once again to the fore yesterday as continued fears over Iraq and the economy kept the bulk of investors on the sidelines.

Supermarket chains Sainsbury's and Safeway dominated the leaderboard while electrical retailer Dixons also regained some ground.

But in a largely lacklustre day in the City, the FTSE 100 Index limped to a close of 3881.8 down a meagre 6.0 points.

A quiet start to trading on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones up just 30 points by the end of play in London, added to the subdued mood.

Safeway surged almost 5%, or 13.25p to 307p its highest price since the end of May last year while Morrisons slipped 1p to 178p. Elsewhere, Dixons was up 2.25p at 113p and Marks & Spencer climbed 10.5p at 314.5p.

Other risers included the oil giants BP and Shell with BP up 3p at 408.75p and Shell ahead 2.5p at 402.75p.

Telecoms were also edging higher with mobile phone giant Vodafone up 0.75p at 123.5p and mmO2 up 0.5p at 50.5p.

Blue-chip banks were weaker with Barclays off 9.25p at 368.25p, HSBC down 3p at 700p and Royal Bank of Scotland down 13p at 1442p. And insurers were on the slide with Prudential down 6.5p at 410.5p and Aviva, which cut its annual bonuses this week, off 8p at 433p.

The highest Footsie risers were Sainsbury's up 10.75p at 239.5p, Safeway ahead 13.25p at 307p and Wolseley, up 15p at 499.5p. The heaviest fallers were Xstrata, down 36p at 585p, Granada, down 3p at 69.5p, Smith & Nephew, down 10.25p at 367p and Hays, down 2.25p at 88.25p.

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