Investors were again struggling to find positive news to lift the mood in London today as the FTSE 100 Index edged closer to the 4000 barrier.
With the US Federal Reserve failing to deliver the hefty half-point interest rate cut that many experts had been looking for, the Footsie slipped 19.1 points to 4048.8 at lunchtime.
In another uncertain session, the downbeat mood was set by the performance of US markets and a profits warning from building materials group Hanson.
Dealers warned that the Footsie could now fall through the important 4000 barrier if jitters about the global economic recovery take hold.
Only last week analysts had been looking in the opposite direction after the blue-chip index hit a nine-month high at above 4200.
Building materials group Hanson topped the losers board, falling 9% or 32.75p to 335.75p, after warning first half profits would be lower than last year due to higher pension costs and negative currency effects.
Oil stocks were also putting pressure on the market, with BP down 2.5p at 422p after finalising details of a deal to create Russia’s third biggest oil and gas company. Shell fell 1.75p to 407.5p.
On a positive note, retail companies enjoyed a positive session after propping up the Footsie yesterday.
Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s gained 4p to 260p, rival Tesco was close behind with a 1.25p rise to 216.25p and takeover target Safeway moved 3.25p higher to 259.75p. Boots Group was up 8.5p at 635p.
United Utilities topped the risers board, up 11.5p at 595.5p, while BT Group rose 3.25p and Rolls-Royce advanced 2.25p at 129.75p.
Outside the top flight, housebuilder Berkeley rose 20.5p to 740.5p following a near 13% rise in annual pre-tax profits.
Logistics group Exel rose 5.5p to 621p after updating the market on “solid trading progress” ahead of its interim results next month.
And there was cheer from software firm Isoft and support services group WS Atkins following positive trading updates.
Isoft gained 26.5p to 286.5p and Atkins topped the FTSE 250 risers board, rising 13% or 33.5p to 291p after reporting that a cost reduction programme had started producing results.
The news was not so positive from newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror, which lost 5p to 431.5p after warning gloomy advertising conditions would continue.
And retailer Body Shop eased almost 4% – down 3.5p to 84.5p – after telling investors that first quarter like-for-like sales in the UK had fallen 8%.