Betting stocks push Footsie higher

Online gaming giant PartyGaming led the FTSE 100 Index further into positive territory today as comments from rival 888 cheered the sector.

Online gaming giant PartyGaming led the FTSE 100 Index further into positive territory today as comments from rival 888 cheered the sector.

The owner of PartyPoker.com was the highest blue-chip riser after 888 Holdings said the final three months of this year had started well despite investors fearing a sharp slowdown in growth in the industry.

It helped the Footsie lift 27 points to 5344.3, extending significant gains prompted by a flurry of takeover activity during the previous session.

The latest rise was despite a more downbeat performance across the Atlantic, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood about 10 points lower by the end of trading in London.

In London, PartyGaming cheered 7%, up 6.25p to 93.5p. It was among a string of stocks in the sector cheered by comments from smaller rival 888.com – although that stock failed to hold on to early gains, ending the session 4.5p lower at 166p.

Back in the top flight, a strong performance by the real estate sector saw land and property developer Hammerson feature prominently on the top-flight leaders’ board.

The company was boosted by an upgrade by broker JP Morgan and a recommendation by Goldman Sachs to invest in the sector.

Shares in Hammerson rose 26.5p to 918.5p, not far below its year-high of 933.5p, while British Land was close behind – up almost 3% or 26.5p to 918.5p.

Telecoms giant O2 was in positive territory again today, up almost 2% or 3.5p to 209.25p, on the back of yesterday’s announcement of a £17.7 billion takeover by Spain’s Telefonica. Rival Vodafone stood 1.25p higher at 149.5p.

However, there was negative reaction to some of the day’s biggest corporate news.

Airports operator BAA and Imperial Tobacco both fell into the red as their latest updates failed to inspire investors.

BAA weakened 7p to 606.5p as analysts expressed concerns that capacity constraints at Heathrow were limiting its ability to capitalise fully on the boom in air travel. It followed news of 700 job cuts and a 9.6% rise in half-year operating profits.

Imperial Tobacco fell 5p to 1615p after record profits of £1.13 billion were clouded by fears over shrinking volumes in its major markets of the UK and Germany.

However, Friends Provident lifted 1.5p to 177.75p after saying a new drive to sell protection products through banks and building societies may boost under-pressure sales of mortgage-related products.

Elsewhere, clothing retailer Matalan lifted half a penny to 165.5p despite saying sales wilted over the past nine weeks, which featured the unusually warm weather in October. Matalan said it would concentrate on improving margins in the second half of the year to offset the slowdown in consumer spending.

The highest Footsie risers today were PartyGaming up 6.25p to 93.5p, Royal & Sun Alliance rising 4.25p to 100.5p, BG Group up 21p to 517p and Prudential rising 17.5p to 491.5p.

The heaviest fallers were Rentokil Initial down 2.75p to 150.75p, International Power off 3p to 229p, Alliance UniChem down 9.5p to 761p and BAA off 7p to 606.5p.

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