BP inspires FTSE fall

Oil giant BP anchored the London market in the red today after investors lost the right to the most recent dividend payout.

Oil giant BP anchored the London market in the red today after investors lost the right to the most recent dividend payout.

Shares in the UK’s largest company fell 2% on a day when stocks going ex-dividend filled the top five spots on the fallers board of the FTSE 100 Index.

With heavyweights such as Centrica and Tesco among this quintet, it was no surprise that the Footsie ended the session 21.1 points lighter at 5439.8.

Centrica weakened 5.25p to 242.5p, BP dropped 13p to 627p and Tesco fell 6.25p as investors checked out of the stocks. The loss of recent dividend payments also explained why insurer Royal & Sun Alliance faded 2% or 1.75p to 104.75p.

BAA was on the slide after revealing that the passenger load on planes stopping at its airports had fallen since the London bomb blasts. Its shares weakened 9.5p to 629p, although there was some buying of the stock during the afternoon as investors felt the initial reaction to the news was overdone.

The airports operator was joined in the red by mobile phone firm Vodafone as investors took the opportunity to bank profits after its shares hit their highest level in a month yesterday. Shares in Vodafone drifted a penny to 150.5p.

AstraZeneca weakened 26p to 2569p after broker Credit Suisse First Boston downgraded it to “underperform” from “neutral”, while analysts also noted the drugs firm was ready for a legal showdown with an Israeli firm seeking to make copies of its best-selling schizophrenia treatment.

But there were gains for companies due to update the market on trading within the next 24 hours. Brewing giant SABMiller lifted 8p to 1081p and telecoms firm BT advanced 2.75p to 214.5p.

Recovering retailer Marks & Spencer was also in buoyant mood following good results yesterday and the news that design guru George Davies would stay with the company.

Shares were up 8p to 443.5p – well ahead of the 400p that Philip Green was willing to pay for the company – as JP Morgan hiked its target price for the stock to 470p from 450p.

Argos owner GUS was strong in the retail sector – 8.5p ahead at 870.5p, but fellow retailer Next was stuck at its opening mark at 1350p and Kingfisher slipped 2.75p to 219.75p.

Outside the top flight, transport operator FirstGroup rose 4.5p to 339.5p after reporting a strong showing by its rail arm despite the London terror attacks having a “significant” impact on business.

Logistics group Wincanton was also upbeat after saying profits had nearly doubled in its first half after it won new contracts with blue-chip firms. Shares advanced 13p to 330p.

Today’s biggest blue-chip risers were Tate & Lyle up 11p to 496p, PartyGaming up 2p to 90.5p, Antofagasta ahead 31p at 1511p and Kelda up 13.5p to 710.5p.

The heaviest fallers were Centrica down 5.25p to 242.5p, BP off 13p to 627p, Tesco down 6.25p to 308p and Royal & Sun Alliance down 1.75p at 104.75p.

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