FTSE loses ground

The London market’s strong start to the year stalled today as a lack of corporate data left it without direction.

The London market’s strong start to the year stalled today as a lack of corporate data left it without direction.

The FTSE 100 Index shed 0.3 points to close at 5731.5 at the start of the second week of the new year, while the FTSE 250 Index lost 18.3 points to stand just below the 8900 mark.

The real estate sector was the main drag on the market although most of the session’s focus was outside the top flight where camera firm Jessops and budged airline easyJet made strong gains.

Hammerson, down 36p to 981.5p, Land Securities, off 54p to 1577p, and British Land, 31.5p lower at 1050p, topped the blue chip fallers board after Merrill Lynch downgraded the sector.

But there was better news for HSBC after a positive recommendation from Citigroup sent shares up 22.5p to 969p.

The move buoyed the rest of the banking sector as Barclays gained half a penny to 628p, Lloyds TSB cheered 2p to 499.75p and HBOS ticked 14.5p higher to 975.5p, although Royal Bank of Scotland was out of favour, losing 14p to 1792p.

There was continued buying interest in Marks & Spencer – up 1.25p to 502p – as investors prepared for a key trading update tomorrow.

And miners were in good shape, with Kazakhmys up 9p to 784p, Rio Tinto 27p ahead to 2700p and BHP Billiton up 9p to 987p, although it was a mixed day for oil heavyweights, with BP up half a penny to 643p and Royal Dutch Shell down 2p to 1933p.

But most of the activity was out of the top flight, where easyJet soared to its highest level for three-and-a-half years. Shares were up 8% or 28.5p to 408.25p after it carried more than 30 million passengers in 2005 and analysts continued to speculate over a possible Icelandic-based takeover.

Camera firm Jessops also found friends as it fuelled hopes of a better-than-expected Christmas for retailers with a 9.4% increase in like-for-like sales in the five weeks to New Year’s Day.

Shares in Jessops were up more than 6% or 6.25p to 103.25p as analysts indicated they would take another look at their profits forecasts.

It boosted Dixons and Currys owner DSG International, whose shares rose 1.75p to 169.75p.

But B&Q owner Kingfisher faded 1.5p to 233p after paving stone maker Marshalls flagged particular weakness in recent sales to the DIY sector.

Marshalls initially rose after progress elsewhere in its business put like-for-like revenues from continuing operations on course to rise by 1% to £332m (€485m) in 2005. Shares later closed 2p lower at 310.75p.

And shares in glass maker Pilkington dropped 3.75p to 146.5p after weekend media reports said Japanese firm Nippon Sheet Glass had gone cold on a takeover deal.

The top flight’s biggest risers were ICI up 9p to 344p, HSBC up 22.5p to 969p, 3i Group ahead 18p to 914p and HBOS up 14.5p to 975.5p.

The heaviest fallers were Hammerson down 36p to 981.5p, Land Securities off 54p to 1577p, British Land off 31.5p to 1050p and Capita Group which slipped 9.25p to 424.75p

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