FTSE finishes almost static

News of a multi-billion deal in the confectionery sector and better-than-expected results from Whitbread helped consumer stocks make strong advances on the London market today.

News of a multi-billion deal in the confectionery sector and better-than-expected results from Whitbread helped consumer stocks make strong advances on the London market today.

Analysts said a US$23bn (€14m) takeover offer from Mars for chewing gum giant Wrigley could spark off a wave of consolidation in the industry, propelling Cadbury Schweppes shares to the top of the risers board.

Costa Coffee and Premier Inn owner Whitbread had already provided some welcome cheer for the consumer sector with its upbeat annual results, although the wider FTSE 100 Index failed to hold on to gains, closing down one point at 6090.4.

The Footsie was dragged lower after a lacklustre start on Wall Street, with investors cautious ahead of the US interest rates decision due on Wednesday.

It had otherwise been a strong start to the trading week in London.

Cadbury benefited from the Wrigley takeover announcement, with the stock closing up 3% or 15.5p at 579p.

Halifax Bank of Scotland stuck close to its opening mark despite speculation it will announce a £4bn (€5bn) rights issue tomorrow.

The UK's biggest mortgage lender was 1.25p lower at 495.75p, although the group lagged behind other banks after JP Morgan said the worst of the European write-downs might be over. Barclays stood 3.25p higher at 470.5p and Royal Bank of Scotland strengthened 5.5p at 354.5p.

Meanwhile, Whitbread's results gave a lift to consumer-driven sectors after it said it was hopeful of trading through any consumer downturn, lifting shares 3% or 37p to 1227p.

Argos owner Home Retail Group was the leading Footsie riser with a 5% or 11p gain to 251.25p ahead of annual figures later this week.

Prospects of solid numbers from the group lifted stocks elsewhere in the retail sector, with Marks & Spencer up 14.75p to 375.25p and fashion chain Next cheering 28p to 1125p.

The mood was helped by internet fashion retailer ASOS, which posted strong sales figures and was rewarded with a gain of 11.25p to 310.25p.

Miners added support after Credit Suisse raised its target price on Xstrata, lifting the stock 89p to 4094p. Cairn Energy rose 93p to 2999p after benefiting from crude oil prices of almost US$120 a barrel.

Transport companies shook off fuel price worries after a positive trading update from Stagecoach built on the momentum seen following a progress report from rival Go-Ahead on Friday.

Stagecoach was 27.5p stronger at 248.75p in the FTSE 250 Index - a gain of more than 12%. Go-Ahead also rose, up 7p at 1664p, while Arriva added 11p to 692p.

The leading Footsie faller was pharmaceuticals company Shire, which slipped 37p to 903p after downgrades from brokers at UBS and Credit Suisse following Friday's first-quarter results.

UBS said sales of its Vyvanse hyperactivity drug were at the bottom end of Shire's guidance.

An Office of Fair Trading investigation into alleged price-fixing of health, beauty and grocery products also hit the share prices of the UK's three biggest listed supermarkets.

Sainsbury's fell 8.75p to 384p, Morrisons slipped 8.25p to 289.75p and Tesco lost 6.5p to 420p.

The biggest Footsie risers were Home Retail Group up 11p at 251.25p, Marks & Spencer up 14.75p at 375.25, Kazakhmys ahead 61p at 1725p and Cairn Energy up 93p at 2999p.

The four biggest fallers were Shire down 37p at 903p, London Stock Exchange off 38p at 1106p, Morrisons down 8.25p at 289.75 and British Energy down 19.5p at 765.5p.

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