FTSE on course for 30-month high

The FTSE 100 Index looked on course to hit another 30-month high today as it chalked up gains for the seventh consecutive session.

The FTSE 100 Index looked on course to hit another 30-month high today as it chalked up gains for the seventh consecutive session.

But with little in the way of corporate news to inspire traders, progress was limited, with the Footsie 3.0 points higher at 4822.8 by lunchtime.

Trading volumes in the City were thin, with the number of shares changing hands among the lowest this year.

Little momentum was expected from across the Atlantic, with experts tipping the Dow Jones Industrial Average to open slightly lower today.

The fallout from the quake in Asia continued to have a psychological impact on markets, although shares in Zurich-based reinsurance giant Swiss Re advanced 42p to 3740p in London after it said it expected claims from the disaster to total less than 100 million francs (€65m).

Economic news at home also held back progress, with the Nationwide saying house prices fell by 0.2% this month.

On the markets, the maker of Durex condoms and Scholl footcare products was providing the excitement as traders continued to speculate about a possible takeover.

SSL International was the highest riser in the FTSE 250, up more than 5% or 15.75p to 311.75p, as dealers mulled over talk of interest from companies such as GPW of the US and household products giant Reckitt Benckiser.

The highest Footsie climbers included drinks companies, with Scottish & Newcastle up 3.75p to 437.75p, SAB Miller advancing 8p to 869p and Diageo rising 4.5p to 746p.

In contrast, one of the biggest top flight fallers was drugs giant AstraZeneca, off 10p to 1870p after yesterday’s gains on news of Japanese approval for its cholesterol-busting drug Crestor.

Retailers were among the session’s losers as investors braced themselves for news of tough Christmas trading on the high street.

Argos-owner GUS dropped a penny to 935p and Boots was 3p lower at 656p.

Oil giant BP was in the red, down half a penny to 511.5p, as the price of oil weakened slightly. Rival Shell was unaffected, advancing 0.75p to 446.75p

Back outside the top flight, telecoms company Spiritel added 2.5% or half a penny to 20.5p as maiden results showed losses in line with expectations. The firm vowed to cash in on the trend to move call centres abroad.

Shares in support services group Jarvis lost earlier gains to fall 11% or 4p to 33p despite chief executive Alan Lovell’s predictions of a long-awaited recovery. The stock had doubled in value after yesterday’s results.

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