FTSE down at market close

Insurers made strong advances on the London market today as blue chip stocks regained their poise in a less volatile session.

Insurers made strong advances on the London market today as blue chip stocks regained their poise in a less volatile session.

Prudential helped the battered insurance sector make up some of the recent ground lost after it reassured investors on financial strength.

The wider FTSE 100 Index dipped 52.9 points to 4229.7, with earlier gains pulled back following a lower opening for Wall Street on renewed fears about the outlook for the US economy and after a raft of US companies warned of trouble ahead.

But London’s financials were faring better in more stable trading. HBOS joined Legal & General, Pru and RSA Insurance on the leaders board.

Much of the City’s attention was focused on the Pru after it said it was strong enough to withstand much heavier downturns in stock markets.

Pru shares have fallen by a third in the past month because of the market fears, but the stock rose 6% today, up 18.25p at 348.5p.

However, its shares initially opened in negative territory after it failed to provide any meaningful update on plans to buy the Asian arm of AIG and said it was unlikely to meet its Asian sales target a year ahead of schedule.

Pru’s rivals benefited from the reassuring comments, with L&G gaining 11% as it rose 7.2p to 73.2p. RSA lifted 8.2p to 124.5p – 7%.

Halifax Bank of Scotland added 5% or 3.6p to 82.5p after Standard Life said it was willing to increase its stakes in HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS moved in the opposite direction, down 5.2p at 79.3p.

HSBC was also on the back foot, down 30p at 810p, as was Standard Chartered with a fall of 93p to 1037p in a mixed session for the major banks.

There was a 7% gain for building supplies firm Wolseley after Numis Securities said the shares offered value at their current level. The beleaguered stock rose 11p to 310.75p.

Meanwhile an easing back in oil prices, to below 72 US dollars a barrel, provided a lift for fuel dependent stocks.

British Airways rose 6.2p to 141.9p, while cruise giant Carnival was up 62p at 1565p. In the second tier, low cost airline easyJet also benefited, with a rise of 1.75p to 313p.

Also in the FTSE 250, housebuilders were likewise back in favour after heavy falls yesterday. Taylor Wimpey, up 17%, and Persimmon led the way with gains of 1.75p to 12.25p and 35.5p to 236.25p respectively.

Elsewhere, a dividend cut and 4.2% like-for-like sales drop failed to prevent Debenhams shares from rising 3% or 1p to 33.5p. Investors were encouraged by a pledge to reduce the company’s £1 billion debt.

The biggest Footsie risers were 3i Group up 66.5p at 517p, Legal & General ahead by 7.2p at 73.2p, RSA Insurance up 8.2p at 124.5p and Rexam up 20.5p at 343.75p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were British American Tobacco down 146p at 1568p, Standard Chartered off 93p at 1037p, Royal Bank of Scotland down 5.2p at 79.3p and Scottish & Southern Energy down 74p at 1164p.

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