FTSE struggles for direction

The FTSE 100 Index struggled for direction today despite strong gains from online casino PartyGaming.

The FTSE 100 Index struggled for direction today despite strong gains from online casino PartyGaming.

Shares in the Party Poker operator lifted 10% amid signs of growing opposition to legislation which would outlaw internet gambling in the United States.

But the progress was not enough to keep the Footsie far on the front foot as it gave up early gains – which saw it hit 6073 – to close just 1.6 points higher at 6045.7.

PartyGaming led the way, adding 13p to 142.5p after a debate in the US House of Representatives yesterday threw up opposition to a bill proposing a ban on web-based gambling.

The rise gave it a market capitalisation of £5.7bn (€81.bn) – more than £500m (€716m) higher than last night – while shares in mid-cap rival 888 Holdings were 9% higher up 19p to 240p.

The initial improvement for the market was driven by miners and a record high for the Australian stock market, which houses the likes of dual-listed BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

BHP and Rio Tinto have risen by at least 10% over the past seven days, although BHP faded as the session wore on to close down 4p at 1143p. But Rio Tinto cheered 17p to 3152p, while Kazakhmys continued to rise, gaining 3% or 38p at 1269p, and Xstrata put on 40p to 2028p.

Supermarkets were in focus following the publication of till roll figures from research firm TNS after the market closed last night.

Tesco was down 3p at 326.75p after its growth rate slowed to 7.2%, while the news that Sainsbury’s had failed to overtake Asda nudged its shares down by half a penny to 336.25p.

Morrisons fared better, up 3p to 197.25p, as the TNS figures indicated that it had continued its recovery in recent weeks.

Among the blue-chip fallers, Alliance & Leicester continued to lose some of the bid premium built up in recent sessions. The banking stock slipped 34p to 1161p, a drop of 3%.

But fellow finance stocks Prudential and Barclays went in the other direction, up 26p to 677.5p and 8p to 686p respectively.

Elsewhere, analysts said Halfords delivered a stellar sales performance in a tough retail environment but tarnished this with news of a heavier fall in margins than they expected.

Halfords shares dipped 18.75p to 315.75p but stand well above their level at the time of the retailer’s flotation in June 2004.

And hospital software firm Isoft fell 11% or 16.25p to 130.75p amid market speculation about the financial standing of the company, which it said was unfounded.

But House of Fraser sparked into life after a dawn raid for the company’s stock reignited speculation about a potential takeover. Shares were up 9% or 10.75p to 135.25p.

The day’s biggest blu chip risers were PartyGaming up 13p to 142.5p, Johnson Matthey up 70p to 1510p, Prudential up 26p to 677.5p and Kazakhmys 38p higher to 1269p.

The heaviest fallers were Alliance & Leicester down 34p to 1161p, Ladbrokes off 8.25p to 390p, Pearson 15.5p lower at 771.5p and Friends Provident down 3.5p to 201p.

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