FTSE holds firm

The London market held firm above the 6500 barrier today as housebuilders and miners encouraged the blue-chip index to race ahead.

The London market held firm above the 6500 barrier today as housebuilders and miners encouraged the blue-chip index to race ahead.

The FTSE 100 Index closed up 69.3 points at 6554.9, resulting in strong gains for a second straight week and offsetting a lacklustre opening on Wall Street.

Better than expected US non-farm jobs data saw investors cut chances of a 50 basis point cut in America’s interest rates.

In London, mining firm Xstrata led the charge with a gain of 8%, which traders said reflected speculation about a possible tie-up with Anglo American. Xstrata rose 268p to 3656p, while Anglo was ahead 164p at 3400p.

Housebuilders benefited from hopes that Thursday’s quarter point rate cut in interest rates will prevent the collapse in the house market many had forecast earlier this week.

Taylor Wimpey rose 15.2p at 214.5p, while Charles Church owner Persimmon lifted 43.5p to 794p and Barratt Developments cheered 18.5p to 466.75p. Property firm British Land also rose, adding 43.5p to 975p and Hammerson lifted 38p to 1094p.

Build Center chain Wolseley rallied 7%, or 47.5p to 733.5p, as investors hoped the downturn forecast for its UK business could be avoided.

BSkyB was among those on the fallers board after the satellite broadcaster said James Murdoch was stepping down as chief executive, to be replaced by finance director Jeremy Darroch. Shares fell 1% or 3.5p to 601p.

Northern Rock spent much of the session on the back foot, but later surged to stand 7.6p higher at 110.6p. Private equity group JC Flowers quit the battle for the mortgage bank, but the blow was softened by the tabling of formal proposals from investment group Olivant, which plans to take a stake in Northern rather than make a full offer.

Supermarkets and dairy companies were also under the spotlight after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said a number of them had agreed to pay fines following its investigation into price fixing during 2002 and 2003.

They included Sainsbury’s, down 2p at 441.25p, while FTSE 250 firm Dairy Crest lifted 9%, or 47p to 587p, after its early admission to the OFT resulted in a “significantly reduced” fine of £9.4m.

Another second tier riser included housebuilder Berkeley Group, ahead 119p at 1370p. Berkeley’s uplift came as the group reported pre-tax profits up 11% at £90.6m for the six months to the end of October and said yesterday’s rate cut could see the “feel-good factor” return to the housing market.

However, Emap shares fell 10% or 78.5p to 746.5p, after it agreed the £1.14bn sale of its consumer magazines and radio businesses, but disappointed investors by failing to offload the company’s business information titles.

The biggest Footsie risers were Xstrata ahead 268p at 3656p, Taylor Wimpey up 15.2p at 214.5p, Northern Rock up 7.6p at 110.6p and Wolseley up 47.5p at 733.5p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Icap down 14p at 664.5p, SABMiller off 24p at 1362p, Imperial Tobacco down 45p at 2578p and Associated British Foods off 13.5p at 859.5p.

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