FTSE sees strong close

The London market overcame fresh worries about the state of the US economy to close near the 6,000 barrier today.

The London market overcame fresh worries about the state of the US economy to close near the 6,000 barrier today.

The FTSE 100 Index staged a late rally to finish 55.8 points higher at 5947.1, even though the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened in negative territory.

US markets were under pressure after worse-than-expected unemployment figures revived worries about the health of the world's largest economy.

In a quiet session for corporate news, British Energy took centre stage as traders speculated about possible bidders for the nuclear power operator.

Shares were 7% higher, up 48.5p to 711p, after a French newspaper said the board of energy giant EDF had given the green light for a takeover approach.

EDF is unlikely to be alone in its interest, with British Gas owner Centrica and Germany's RWE also linked to the firm, which is part-owned by the Government and due to play a key role in the development of the UK's nuclear power supply.

Meanwhile, there was also talk of interest from BT and Carphone Warehouse in the UK arm of broadband firm Tiscali, helping shares in the pair improve 3p to 230p and 5.75p to 286.75p respectively. Pay-TV group BSkyB, which has also been mentioned as being a possible bidder, slipped half a penny to 568.5p.

Mining stocks were in positive territory after broker upgrades for Xstrata and Antofagasta. SG Securities said metals prices should be buoyed in the short term, helping send the firms' shares up 127p to 3707p and 29p to 748.5p.

BHP Billiton also added 57p to 1617p, with Rio Tinto gaining 252p to 5694p.

The other big rise came from AstraZeneca after Morgan Stanley upped its price target, following this week's research boost for the company's cholesterol-lowering treatment Crestor. Shares were 60p higher at 2110p.

Banks enjoyed a mixed session, starting the day under pressure as investors decided it was too early to call the end of the credit crisis. But several firms clung to positive territory with Barclays closing 2.5p higher at 489.6p and Royal Bank of Scotland adding 1.75p to 370p.

Homebuilder Persimmon, which has seen sales squeezed by the current financial uncertainty, was mired in the red after a downbeat broker note from Credit Suisse. Its shares were down 22p to 719p. Second-tier rivals Bovis Homes and Barratt Developments were down 34p at 590p and 20.75p at 401.5p respectively.

B&Q owner Kingfisher joined Persimmon at the top of the fallers' board, down 4.1p to 133.7p, after receiving a sell recommendation from Seymour Pierce amid "significant pressure" in the UK.

British Airways was another loser, off 3.25p at 235p, as oil prices stood near US$105 a barrel.

The biggest Footsie risers were British Energy up 48.5p at 711p, ICAP ahead 27.5p at 620p, Rio Tinto up 252p at 5694p and Old Mutual ahead 4.9p at 124.3p.

The biggest fallers were Kingfisher down 4.1p at 133.7p, Persimmon off 22p at 719p, Marks & Spencer off 6.75p at 385.75p and Enterprise Inns off 7p at 408p.

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