American jitters haul FTSE back from high

Jitters across the Atlantic were felt in London today as stocks from a range of sectors pulled the FTSE 100 Index back from a four-and-a-half year high.

Jitters across the Atlantic were felt in London today as stocks from a range of sectors pulled the FTSE 100 Index back from a four-and-a-half year high.

British Airways, Vodafone and a series of retailers were among the heaviest blue-chip fallers, contributing to the Footsie ending the session 24.1 points lower at 5711.

Mounting concerns over the situation in Iran continued to affect the mood in New York, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average was in the red for a second consecutive session by the close of trading in London.

In London, supermarket group Sainsbury’s was among the heaviest top flight fallers as the better-than-expected sales figures of yesterday continued to be overshadowed by fears over stronge competition and the impact of rising costs. Shares were 6.25p lower at 307.5p.

It was joined on the way down by a number of retailers, as investors continued to weigh up the impact of a bumper set of figures from the sector yesterday. Other fallers included Next, losing 39p to 1695p, while Morrisons weakened 3p to 195.5p.

British Airways retreated 6p to 331p following significant gains earlier in the week, while mobile phone giant Vodafone slipped 1.25p to 127.5p.

But they were all beaten to the top of the blue-chip fallers boardby Shire Pharmaceuticals, which lost some of the ground gained after a positive broker note yesterday. Shire weakened 4% or 34p to 816.5p today.

Oil firm Royal Dutch Shell lost ground as the price of a barrel of crude hovered just below 64 US dollars in New York, sending shares down 16p to 1929p. However, rival BP managed to hold firm, up 2p at 654.5p.

Outside the top flight, Northern Foods shares slumped 9% or 15.25p to 148.75p after it warned that annual profits would be lower than last year. The company blamed rising fuel costs and price cuts for the disappointment.

Waterstone’s owner HMV continued to struggle, losing 15.5p to stand at 163p, after yesterday’s warning that Christmas sales had been disappointing.

And pubs and nightclub operator Ultimate Leisure fell 6p to 245p as it issued a profits warning after “difficult” trading over the Christmas and New Year period.

Housebuilder Bellway was stuck in reverse gear despite saying it had already secured 75% of its sales target for 2006. Shares dropped 17p to 1141p as the firm added that it was difficult to predict how the housing market would unfold. Top flight rival Persimmon was also in the doldrums, losing 1% or 13p to 1239p.

Pubs chain Wetherspoon recovered from a downbeat trading statement issued yesterday, lifting 11.5p to 328.5p to make it the third-highest FTSE 250 riser.

The highest Footsie risers today were International Power up 5.75p to 257.75p, Old Mutual rising 3p to 175p, PartyGaming up 1.75p to 140.5p and BAT rising 15p to 1257p.

The heaviest fallers were Shire off 34p to 816.5p, BT Group down 5.25p to 215.25p, Next off 39p to 1695p and Reed Elsevier down 11.5p to 535.5p.

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