The mining sector put pressure on the London market today as falling metal prices offset cheer from retailing giant Marks & Spencer.
The FTSE 100 Index gave back gains seen in early trading to stand 21.2 points down at 6691.5, despite a strong showing from retailers after M&S posted first quarter figures.
The high street chain reported better-than-expected sales growth, albeit with a like-for-like increase of just 2%.
The group’s shares leapt 3%, or 16.5p, to 649p as investors breathed a sigh of relief, having been braced for a sharp slowdown.
Other retailers gained from the M&S update, with Next up 21p to 2031p, Argos owner Home Retail Group ahead 3.75p at 454p and supermarket giant Tesco ahead 2.5p at 417.5p.
But food and detergent firm Unilever topped the risers board as the firm benefited from consolidation hopes in the sector after news of Danone’s planned purchase of Dutch food group Numico. The stock was up 62p at 1678p.
Power companies also fared well after an upgrade for Drax from Goldman Sachs, which buoyed the coal-fired power station operator 11.5p to 748.5p. British Gas parent Centrica likewise lifted thanks to the upgrade, up 1.75p at 382p.
Meanwhile mining stocks littered the fallers’ board after a pull-back in metal prices. BHP Billiton was worst hit in the sector, off 26p at 1517p, followed by Antofagasta down 11p at 670.5p and Xstrata down 50p at 3310p.
Telecoms firm BT was also off 5p at 328.75p following reports it had lost out to France Telecom in the race for Indian network firm GTL.
In the second tier, transport firm Arriva was the top performer with a rise of 8%, or 54.5p, to 768p after it won the Cross Country rail franchise. Arriva will receive a £1.05bn subsidy over the life of the deal.