The FTSE 100 Index was in need of a lift today as the London market paused for breath after a recent strong run.
By lunchtime, the Footsie was up 7.7 points at 4169 after the blue-chip index had swung between positive and negative territory.
A lack of major corporate news meant there was little buying momentum as traders appeared satisfied with the market’s recent ascent towards 4200.
Further uncertainty was provided by Wall Street, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average forecast to open lower.
In London, Tesco was the brightest performer among blue-chips after posting UK like-for-like sales growth of 5.8% in its first quarter. That was better than the 4.1% growth achieved during the previous financial year.
Shares in the supermarket giant rose more than 3%, or 6.75p at 211.75p, although it was not all good news for Tesco as it also faced a protest from shareholders over two-year rolling contracts at its AGM today.
Banking stocks also continued their upward trend following Royal Bank of Scotland’s upbeat trading statement and Churchill insurance buy on Wednesday.
RBS rose another 12p to 1748p while Lloyds TSB added 6.75p to 456.5p, Barclays lifted 6.75p to 468p and Abbey National climbed 4.75p to 532p.
Elsewhere, oil stocks were having a negative influence on the market, with BP 1.75p lower at 444.25p and Shell falling 2.25p to 423p.
Outside the Footsie, furniture retailer MFI posted strong gains, up 13% or 18.75p to 166.75p, after forecasting a 62% lift in sales in the next three years on the back of a fresh look for its stores.
MFI told analysts that it expects UK retail sales to increase from last year’s £861 million to £1.4 billion in 2006.
Elsewhere in the second tier, Durex condom-to-Scholl foot products group SSL International continued its progress of recent days, rising 8.5p to 307.5p.
And supermarket group Somerfield continued to show no ill-effect from yesterday’s announcement by entrepreneurs Bob Lovering and Bob Mackenzie that they were ending their takeover interest.
Somerfield shares rose 3% yesterday and added another 4% or 4p at 112.25p today. Discount retailer Matalan, which surged 12% yesterday on the back of takeover speculation, also lifted a further 4%, or 6.75p to 198p.
Meanwhile, the David Beckham transfer saga continued to put Manchester United shares under the spotlight. They rose almost 2%, or 2.75p at 150p, today.