FTSE falls before Vodafone, Rolls-Royce comeback

An uncertain final session before Easter today saw the FTSE 100 Index sink below 6000 before recovering with strong gains from Vodafone and Rolls-Royce.

An uncertain final session before Easter today saw the FTSE 100 Index sink below 6000 before recovering with strong gains from Vodafone and Rolls-Royce.

A string of miners dragged the market lower in early trading but it was buoyed by pensions news from Rolls-Royce and rumours that Vodafone may be preparing to sell its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless.

It was enough to see the Footsie consolidate its position above the 6000 mark as it closed 28.6 points higher at 6029.4.

Vodafone moved up the blue-chip risers board with a gain of 4p to 128.25p, amid fresh speculation that it was planning to meet the demands of some investors and sell its holding in Verizon Wireless to Verizon.

It was followed by Rolls-Royce which rose 12p to 480p on a pledge to put £500m (€724.1m) towards plugging the pensions gap in return for the agreement of workers to close two final salary schemes to new members.

But both stocks were beaten to the top of the leaderboard by PartyGaming as investors bet on the online casino operator following a broker upgrade by Numis ahead of Tuesday’s performance update. Shares were 5% stronger, up 6.75p to 151.75p.

Financial services firm Man Group also lifted 105p to 2557p after announcing that its most recent product launch had raised more than $2.3bn (€1.9bn) of client money.

Alliance & Leicester won back some recent losses with gains of 22p to 1143p but Marks & Spencer’s strong run cooled as it was unchanged at 589p.

Oil stocks gave back some of their recent strength as the cost of crude steadied around $68 a barrel. BP fell 3p to 688p, while BG Group faded half a penny to 742p although Royal Dutch Shell recovered losses to close unchanged at 1970p.

Miners were also a drag with a fall of 10p to 1124p for BHP Billiton and 32p to 3060p for Rio Tinto.

The heaviest faller was Anglo American, which shed 27p to 2366p.

Elsewhere, bar operator Mitchells & Butlers rose 7% or 34p to 497.5p after the R20 bid vehicle of property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz made an informal approach over a possible bid worth 550p a share.

However, Mitchells said today that it would only consider a formal written proposal and none had been received yet.

Menswear retailer Moss Bros was also higher, up 7% or 5.5p to 86.75p, after reporting its third straight year of sales growth and a 16% hike in profits before restructuring costs.

SSL International gained a penny to 319p after a 5% hike in sales on the back of a strong performance from Durex condoms.

The day’s biggest blue chip risers were PartyGaming up 6.75p to 151.75p, Man Group 105p higher at 2557p, Vodafone up 4p to 128.25p and Rolls-Royce up 12p to 480p.

The heaviest fallers were Anglo American off 27p to 2366p, Rio Tinto down 32p to 3060p, Northern Rock 11p lower at 1098p and BHP Billiton down 10p to 1124p.

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