Slight afternoon rally for FTSE

The London market experienced a slight rally in afternoon trading today as the FTSE 100 Index clawed back some of the session’s earlier losses.

The London market experienced a slight rally in afternoon trading today as the FTSE 100 Index clawed back some of the session’s earlier losses.

The Footsie, which drifted below the 6,000 barrier after falling by 126 points, closed down 57.5 points at 6058.7.

A stabilisation in US markets helped stem earlier UK losses after the Nikkei in Tokyo fell 3% overnight.

US stocks were buoyed by data which revealed the US service sector had continued to grow in February, although at a reduced pace from January’s levels. However, US markets slipped back as the session continued.

Falling copper and gold prices meant miners were among the heaviest casualties, with Lonmin down more than 3% or 96p at 2966p, Vedanta Resources off 37p at 1178p and Antofagasta 12.5p lower at 445.5p.

British Airways led the blue-chip fallers with a loss of 7%, or 35p to 496.5p, after Friday’s draft open skies agreement between the European Union and the United States.

That could raise the prospect of increased competition on BA’s prized transatlantic routes out of Heathrow.

It also emerged that BA completed the sale of its Connect business with an additional charge of £20 million, following losses incurred by the business to the end of February.

HSBC was one of just a few stocks in positive territory, up 10p at 896p after annual profits rose 5% to £11.48 billion and it spared investors further nasty surprises relating to bad debt levels in the United States.

Royal & Sun Alliance topped the risers’ board after it completed the disposal of its US operation to Arrowpoint Capital. The disposal, which tackles a major area of risk for the insurance group, caused shares to jump nearly 4%, up 5.75p at 154p.

Royal Bank of Scotland rose 5p to 2081p after a broker upgrade from Lehman Brothers, while Scottish & Southern Energy lifted 1p to 1466p, as it revealed plans to pay a higher dividend after customer numbers rose to 7.7 million.

In the FTSE 250 Index, estate agency group Countrywide rose 20p to 600p, a gain of almost 4%, after it was reported that 3i may make another takeover attempt in the wake of Countrywide’s agreement with private equity firm Apollo.

Music group EMI was down more than 4% after the news on Friday that it had rejected a takeover offer from Warner Music. The stock closed at 235.75p, down 10.5p.

And bookmaker William Hill dropped 17p to 618p, despite reporting a 19% jump in full year underlying profits. However, the group did warn that profits growth for 2007 would be hampered by the lack of a major football event and the introduction of a higher tax charge on gaming machines.

The biggest Footsie risers were Royal & Sun Alliance up 5.75p at 154p, HSBC Holdings ahead 10p at 896p, Capita Group up 3p at 646.5p and Resolution ahead 2.5p at 615.5p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were British Airways off 35p at 496.5p, Lonmin down 96p at 2966p, Smiths Group off 32p at 1006p and Vedanta Resources down 37p at 1178p.

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