A subdued session on the London market came to a close today with blue-chip shares easing into the red.
Initial gains faded through the morning and trading came to a close with the FTSE 100 Index off 21.8 points at 3931.6.
The US markets were marginally lower by London’s finish but this had been widely expected by traders.
Subduing sentiment was concern about the political climate following the weekend bomb attack in Bali, as well as light volumes.
City Index trader Tom Hougaard said: “There was some profit-taking seen in stocks like Vodafone but all-in-all it was a quiet day with low volumes and directionless trading.”
However, Mr Hougaard said the market could have closed lower had it not been for strong gains by heavyweight stock AstraZeneca.
The Anglo-Swedish firm soared 272p to 2340p, a hefty 13% jump, after a US court curbed generic copies of its blockbuster ulcer drug Prilosec.
The unexpected victory helped the sector and rival GlaxoSmithKline also moved ahead, up 25p at 1328p.
Looking forward, Mr Hougaard was optimistic: “We are expecting a fairly quiet evening in the US which should benefit the FTSE for tomorrow as it makes another launch on the 4000 barrier.”
In the City today, supermarkets were heavy fallers after a 47% dive by FTSE 250 firm Somerfield.
Chief executive Alan Smith is leaving and the firm warned final profits were only likely to meet last year’s level. Shares tumbled 45p to 50p.
Among the blue chips, Tesco was down 8p at 199p, Safeway lost 8.5p at 195.5p, Morrisons shed 8.75p at 196.25p and J Sainsbury fell 13.5p at 268.5p.
Heavyweight financial and insurance stocks were adding to the subdued mood as investors took profits, although concerns about the economic climate and equity slides also hit home.
Royal Bank of Scotland lost 53p at 1365p, HBOS was 6.5p adrift at 636.5p and fund manager Schroders was 13p weaker at 487p.
Insurer Aviva was off 4.5p at 435.5p while Legal & General eased 5.25p at 101.75p.
Banking group Abbey National had originally moved ahead but failed to hold earlier gains and closed down 4p at 618p.
It had originally lifted amid reports it would again reject Bank of Ireland’s merger proposals. The Irish bank is reported to be preparing a new cash and share offer that would value Abbey at 750p a share.
Among smaller stocks, luxury goods brand Burberry gained 8p at 204p after first-half sales beat many analysts’ expectations.
But Strongbow maker HP Bulmer dived 69p to 126.5p, a 35% slump, after warning profits would be hit by tough trading conditions and a series of one-off costs.
Back in the FTSE 100, the biggest risers were AstraZeneca, up 272p at 2340p, Standard Chartered, up 25.5p at 693p, Corus Group, up a penny at 41p and Royal & Sun Alliance, up 2.25p at 97.25p.
The heaviest fallers were GKN, off 17.75p at 218p, Tomkins, off 12.25p at 200p, Legal & General, off 5.25p at 101.75p and J Sainsbury, off 13.5p at 268.5p.