Gaming stocks drag Footsie down

Poker group PartyGaming led the FTSE 100 Index into negative territory today as investors piled out of online gaming stocks.

Poker group PartyGaming led the FTSE 100 Index into negative territory today as investors piled out of online gaming stocks.

The owner of PartyPoker slumped 8% and was the heaviest top flight faller following a lacklustre reception to the flotation of casino operator 888.com.

Retailer Boots also dampened the mood after a downbeat trading statement, contributing to the Footsie falling 16.6 points to 5478.2. The index had broken through the 5500 barrier earlier in the session.

The top flight’s performance mirrored events across the Atlantic, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average was around 30 points lower by the close of trading in London.

PartyGaming, which owns online poker site PartyPoker, lost 8p to 87.5p as investors expressed caution at the flotation of smaller rival 888.com. Casino firm 888.com’s shares fell to 170p in conditional dealings after floating at 175p.

The negative momentum also rubbed off on other smaller gaming stocks including Sportingbet, off 10p at 311p, and Empire Online, down 1.5p at 175.5p.

Back in the top flight, Boots lost 3% or 20.5p to 608.5p after it emerged that the retailer was no longer backing itself to hit its target of at least flat sales growth this year.

This hit sentiment elsewhere in the retail sector, with Next fading 25p to 1411p and Dixons owner DSG International declining 3p to 150p.

A series of miners who enjoyed big gains yesterday on the back of record copper prices also dragged the Footsie lower as investors banked profits. Xstrata lost 24p to 1466p and Antofagasta retreated 22p to 1558p.

Sugar producer Tate & Lyle was another faller – down 13.25p at 458p – as it warned it may have to recover spiralling energy costs through product price rises.

Retailer Marks & Spencer was among those trying to boost spirits amid speculation of a management buyout, although one trader said this was unlikely. Shares advanced 7p to 377p to place M&S second on the risers’ board.

BP and Royal Dutch Shell were ahead 4.5p and 10p to 683.5p and 1956p respectively after a report showed stocks of crude oil in the United States shrank last week, adding to jitters caused by hurricane damage in the Gulf of Mexico.

And catering group Compass regained some ground lost when yesterday’s operating profits forecast failed to hit City expectations. Shares advanced more than 1% or 2.5p to 208.5p after slumping 11% yesterday.

But second tier retailer HMV continued to lose out after its disappointing sales update. Shares fell another 4%, off 8.5p to 201.5p, adding to the previous session’s 12% tumble.

Elsewhere, video shop owner Home Entertainment retreated 6p to 107.5p as it said group sales in the 16 weeks since June 4 were 7% higher than a year ago, but added that rentals of DVDs and videos were down by 10.5%.

The highest Footsie risers today were Hilton Group up 7.5p to 315p, Marks & Spencer rising 7p to 377p, 3i up 13p at 788p and BG Group adding 6.5p to 536p.

The heaviest fallers were PartyGaming down 8p to 87.5p, Boots off 20.5p to 608.5p, Tate & Lyle down 13.25p to 458p and Cable & Wireless losing 3.5p to 143.25p.

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