Footsie gets fashion boost

High street clothes store Next leapt to the top of the FTSE 100 Index leaderboard today as the London market ended the week on the front foot.

High street clothes store Next leapt to the top of the FTSE 100 Index leaderboard today as the London market ended the week on the front foot.

Shares in Next lifted 4% as rumours of a bid swept through the City while oil and financial stocks were also on the move.

It ensured that the Footsie recovered some of its heavy losses of the previous two sessions as it closed 21.2 points higher at 5879.3.

Next lifted 63p to 1728p on talk of a 2000p a share bid for the company although analysts cast doubt over the likelihood of such a move.

It was followed up the leaderboard by BP amid signs that production at its troubed Prudhoe Bay field could be back to capacity by the end of October.

The field has been operating at half capacity following the discovery of pipe corrosion and shares in BP lifted 7p to 591p today, while rival Royal Dutch Shell was 5p higher at 1852p.

Among insurance stocks, Prudential cheered 5.5p to 583p after a positive note from Merrill Lynch. Elsewhere in the sector, Norwich Union owner improved 8p to 742.5p, Legal & General gained a penny to 131.75p and Royal & Sun Alliance was up 1.5p to 137p.

And online gambling stocks steadied after the shock of another arrest in the industry. The sector dived into the red yesterday after Sportingbet chairman Peter Dicks was arrested in the United States but shares in PartyGaming drifted just 0.25p lower today to 105.5p while 888 Holdings lifted 1.5p to 145.5p. Smaller firm World Gaming stood 2.5p down at 62p.

Miners dominated the blue chip fallers board as investors continued to fret over the possibility of higher US interest rates. Vedanta Resources fell 41p to 1321p, Antofagasta eased 9.75p to 461p and BHP Billiton dropped 6p to 982p.

They were joined by AstraZeneca after Citigroup cut its rating on the pharmaceuticals company from buy to hold, citing a recent strong run from the company. Shares were off 45p to 3300p.

One of the top fallers in the FTSE 250 Index was also caused by a broker note, with Capital Radio owner GCap Media dropping 4%, or 8.5p, to 200.75p following a downgrade from hold to sell by Merrill Lynch.

Aga Foodservice was also on the slide, down 5.75p to 366.25p, despite an 11% rise in half-year profits.

Among other companies reporting today, pubs chain JD Wetherspoon slumped 17p lower to 433.5p despite beating market expectations with profits of £58.4 million – a gain of 24%.

Paving company Marshalls cheered 2%, or 6p to 310p, after it rode out the downturn in the DIY market with a 4% rise in profits.

The day’s biggest blue chip risers were Next up 63p to 1728p, ICAP up 16p to 466p, GUS 25p stronger at 973p, and Sage 5.5p higher at 242.5p.

The heaviest fallers were Vedanta Resources off 41p to 1321p, Antofagasta down 9.75p to 461p, AstraZeneca 45p lower at 3300p and Rio Tinto down 30p to 2672p.

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