Utility stocks steady FTSE as gaming sector plummets

Internet gambling stocks dragged the London market into the red today in the wake of anti-gaming legislation passed in the US.

Internet gambling stocks dragged the London market into the red today in the wake of anti-gaming legislation passed in the US.

Initially the FTSE 100 Index held its nerve in the face of the bloodbath in the gambling sector as a surge for utility firms offset losses.

But the slide, which halved the value of the sector, finally managed to derail the index which closed 3 points down at 5957.8.

Top flight company PartyGaming tumbled 58% and second-tier firm 888 Holdings dived 26% after US Congress passed laws banning banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online casinos.

Party Poker firm PartyGaming dropped 62p to 45p, 888 tumbled 38.25p to 108.25p and Sportingbet fell 118.25p to 66p, a drop of 64%.

Utility stocks surged after Anglian Water owner AWG agreed a £2.2bn (€3.26bn) takeover and then said it had received other offers.

The news sent AWG up 5%, or 75p to 1620p, while in the top flight Severn Trent rose 27p to 1363p and Scottish Power added 13p to 664.5p after its shares also benefited from a positive trading update. Yorkshire Water owner Kelda Group added 32p to 882.5p, while United Utilities rose 7.5p to 713p.

ITV was also on the front with a gain of 2p to 98.75p, after takeover speculation returned to the broadcaster. The latest gain came as traders noted that a consortium headed by Greg Dyke was no longer restricted from making an approach, following a failed attempt in March.

Going the opposite direction, insurer Prudential fell more than 3%, or 22p to 641.5p, as investors booked profits following a rise on Friday on takeover talk. A report in the Observer said it was examining its options for its UK operations.

There was also a drop of 1% for Northern Rock, despite the company putting investors on standby for a profits rise of almost 16%. The Rock succumbed to profit taking after a recent strong run, as shares fell 10p to 1158p.

Meanwhile, second flight software firm Misys dropped more than 18% or 41.25p to 185p after Citigroup maintained its sell rating following a trading update and the resignation of chief executive Kevin Lomax who stepped down after the company ended takeover talks.

But drinks firm Britvic bubbled 6% or 13p to 244.75p after it emerged private equity firm Permira had been lining up a £600m (€888.14m) takeover offer for Britvic, which is best known for making Robinsons and Tango.

Shares remained in positive territory, even though Permira said today it did not intend to make an offer although it reserved the right to bid in the next six months if it was given the support of management or another bidder emerged.

The day’s biggest risers were Vedanta Resources up 52p to 1215p, Kelda Group up 32p to 882.5p, Anglo American up 60p to 2293p and ITV up 2p to 98.75p.

The day’s biggest fallers were PartyGaming down 62p to 45p, Prudential off 22p to 641.5p, Hanso down 25p to 748.5p and Shire off 21.5p to 866.5p.

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