A further rise in the cost of oil helped the FTSE 100 Index hold on above the key 5000 barrier today.
With the cost of a barrel of US light crude edging up towards 55 US dollars in New York this afternoon, oil majors BP and Shell lifted 1p and 4p to 563p and 490.5p respectively.
This helped the Footsie limit its losses, to end the day 6 points lower at 5005 – close to yesterday’s three-month high.
The performance at home mirrored that in the United States, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average was also in lacklustre form, standing about 15 points lower by closing time in London.
Sugar producer Tate & Lyle was proving a drag on the London market, its shares were at the top of the Footsie fallers board amid jitters over its outlook.
The stock lost 4% or 19.5p to 465.5p, as stronger-than-expected annual results were offset by a warning that future figures would be affected by higher factory start-up costs.
In contrast, Johnson Matthey was the day’s best performer, its stock up 3% or 31p to 1015p as the speciality chemicals company said it viewed its prospects as encouraging.
Despite the rising oil price, gas explorer and producer BG Group was a penny lower at 428p, while smaller exploration company Cairn went the same way, easing 10p to 1256p.
Utility firms were also in focus, with Footsie water and energy group United Utilities down 3p to 675.5p.
This was despite reporting a 10% rise in annual profits to £370 million and saying it had identified “immediate opportunities” to save £6 million a year from its acquisition of financial services contractor Marlborough Stirling.
Drinks giant Diageo lost 6p to 787.5p after confirming it had expressed interest in funding one of the companies vying to take over Allied Domecq.
British Airways was on the rise as investors overlooked the oil price rise. Shares lifted 3p to 273.25p as the airline celebrated its first new long-haul service for nearly three years.
Outside the top flight, Anglian Water owner AWG’s announcement of a 6% rise in profits for its regulated business helped to cheer investors. Its stock advanced a penny to 906p.
Waste group Shanks reaped the rewards of a major overhaul of its UK business as it posted a 10% hike in annual profits to £33.3 million. Shares added 5p to 141p.
But online gambling firm Sportingbet slipped 6% or 18.5p to 282.5p despite saying it had beaten its own expectations for third quarter operating profits. The results came as PartyGaming, the world’s biggest web-based poker firm, unveiled plans for a multi-billion dollar stock market flotation that analysts believe could take investors away from rivals like Sportingbet.
The highest Footsie risers today were Johnson Matthey up 31p to 1015p, William Hill advancing 14p to 519p, Rentokil Initial up 2.75p to 152.25p and Scottish Power adding 6.5p to 463.5p.
The heaviest fallers were Tate & Lyle off 19.5p to 465.5p, Centrica losing 4.75p to 230.5p, Amvescap down 6p to 325p and Reckitt Benckiser losing 29p to 1698p.