Footsie edges ahead

The FTSE 100 Index hit a fresh 30-month high today as it chalked up gains for the seventh consecutive session.

The FTSE 100 Index hit a fresh 30-month high today as it chalked up gains for the seventh consecutive session.

Although progress was limited with many traders enjoying an extended holiday, the Footsie pushed 0.3 points higher to end the session at 4820.1.

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

A marginal drop in US weekly jobless claims figures failed to give a significant boost to markets across the Atlantic, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average just slightly ahead by the close in London.

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 39p to 3737p in London after it said it expected claims from the disaster to total less than 100 million francs (£45.9m).

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 lifting the mood as traders continued to speculate about a possible takeover.

SSL International was the second highest riser in the FTSE 250, up more than 6% or 18p to 314p, as dealers mulled over talk of interest from companies such as household products giant Reckitt Benckiser.

One of the top flight climbers was drugs giant AstraZeneca, which shook off earlier losses to close 10p higher at 1890p, following yesterday’s news of Japanese approval for its cholesterol-busting drug Crestor.

Drinks companies featured among the top flight risers, with SAB Miller advancing 6p to 867p and Scottish & Newcastle up a penny to 435p.

But in contrast, oil giant BP was in the red, down 1.5p to 510.5p, as the price of oil weakened slightly. Rival Shell was also affected, losing 0.25p to 445.75p.

Mining stocks were also in the doldrums – Cairn Energy was the second heaviest Footsie faller, down 15p to 1080p. Xstrata also slipped more than 1%, down 12p to 934p, BHP Billiton retreated 3.5p to 607.5p and Antofagasta lost 6p to stand at 1116p.

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 through a new division.

Shares in support services group Jarvis lost earlier gains to fall 24% or 9p to 28p despite chief executive Alan Lovell’s predictions of a long-awaited recovery. The stock had doubled in value after yesterday’s half-yearly results.

The highest top flight risers today were Man Group up 29p to 1468p, Rexam advancing 5p to 461.25p, Alliance UniChem up 7.5p to 758.5p and Smith & Newcastle adding 5p to 535p.

The heaviest fallers were Corus off 0.75p to 51.75p, Cairn Energy down 15p to 1080p, Xstrata off 12p to 934p and Schroders losing 8p to 752p.

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