Footsie hits four year high

Mining stocks drove the FTSE 100 Index to a new four year high today after traders had earlier breathed a sigh of relief at the passing of Hurricane Rita.

Mining stocks drove the FTSE 100 Index to a new four year high today after traders had earlier breathed a sigh of relief at the passing of Hurricane Rita.

With markets in Europe and the United States also on the front foot, the Footsie closed 39.5 points stronger at 5453.1.

A string of miners featured at the top of the blue-chip risers board, with Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton both advancing by around 4% as copper prices approached new highs and Merrill Lynch issued “buy” recommendations on the stocks.

Rio Tinto ended the session 97p higher at 2256p, with BHP Billiton 30.5p stronger at 891p and Antofagasta up 43p at 1545p.

The limited damage in the wake of the hurricane helped lift a broad range of sectors, including insurers as Friends Provident advanced 2%, up 4.5p to 185.5p, and Legal & General cheered 2.25p to 112p.

Even retailer Marks & Spencer was enjoying a strong session as another City broker added weight to expectations of an encouraging trading update next month.

Shares rose 2% or 6.5p to 368.5p, while B&Q owner Kingfisher recovered lost ground to stand 4.25p higher at 225.75p.

Oil firms were among the few stocks to struggle as the cost of a barrel of crude oil fell below 64 US dollars in New York. Cairn Energy was the hardest-hit, off 2% or 35p at 1965p, while larger rival Royal Dutch Shell weakened a penny to 1913p and BP struggled into positive territory – up 1p at 663p.

Telecoms giant O2 also slipped into the red despite an upbeat start to the session. The stock retreated 2.25p to 153p as media reports quashed renewed speculation about takeover interest from Deutsche Telekom.

A series of utility firms were also in the doldrums, including International Power, off 2.25p at 247.25p, and Severn Trent, losing 7p to 1003p.

News that Build Center chain Wolseley bucked the tough trading conditions in the UK with an 11% rise in profits failed to lift its shares, which retreated 18p to 1156p. Wolseley said its current financial year was likely to prove more challenging and also announced the appointment of a new chief executive.

Much of today’s corporate news came from outside the top flight, with retailer Alexon losing 18p to 257.5p after its Dolcis shoe chain fell victim to competition from clothing stores.

The troubles of music management firm Sanctuary continued as shares dived another 16% or 1.30p to 6.63p in the wake of its announcement that it was no longer in takeover talks.

And convenience foods group Uniq slumped 6% late in the session, down 8.5p to 140p after tough trading in the UK led to a profits warning.

The biggest Footsie risers were Rio Tinto up 97p at 2266p, BHP Billiton ahead 30.5p at 891p, SABmiller up 34p at 1079p and Antofagasta ahead 43p at 1545p.

The biggest fallers were Cairn Energy down 35p at 1965p, Wolseley off 18p at 1156p, O2 down 2.25p at 153p and Kelda Group off 7.5p at 695.5p.

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