FTSE finishes ahead

An upbeat opening on Wall Street helped drag London’s leading stocks into positive territory today.

An upbeat opening on Wall Street helped drag London’s leading stocks into positive territory today.

Banking stocks and miners came under early pressure as economic fears continued to trouble a range of blue-chip stocks.

But some decent corporate news from personal computer giant Hewlett Packard lifted the mood in the US and the FTSE 100 Index followed suit – clawing back initial losses to close 76.4 points ahead at 4208.6.

Despite the comeback, banks took a pounding as the UK government set out stringent requirements for banks wishing to access its recapitalisation scheme - seen as a further blow to those investors hoping for a last-ditch alternative proposal to the current HBOS takeover by Lloyds TSB.

HBOS was the leading faller, dropping 11.5p to 63p, while Lloyds TSB shed 17.8p to 131.2p and Royal Bank of Scotland fell 3p to 41.7p.

Barclays, which announced changes to its own fundraising plans in an attempt to head off a shareholder revolt, was down 4.6p at 149.5p.

Among the miners under pressure, Xstrata fell 76.5p to 800p and Lonmin shed 41p to 833p, although Antofagasta topped the risers’ board after management predicted a recovery in copper prices during 2009. Shares rose 8%, or 28.25p to 345p.

In a busy session for corporate updates, building supplies firm Wolseley recovered from a weak start to stand more than 7% or 21.75p higher at 293p. It reported a 45% drop in first quarter profits, but analysts warmed to cost-savings plans, including the reduction of 2,000 jobs in the UK.

Outside the top flight, easyJet shares dropped sharply after it reported a 45% drop in profits and said founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou declined to approve the accounts.

The carrier fell 25.5p to 251p, a drop of 10%, as the row overshadowed easyJet’s comments on an improvement in bookings for the winter season.

Carphone Warehouse suffered similar falls after gloomy comments on the trading outlook overshadowed news it may split off its broadband arm. Shares were 12.25p lower at 118p.

Fellow retailer Burberry was another casualty of the economic conditions after it warned of possible profits disappointment this year. Shares were 14% lower or 25.25p at 175p.

Elsewhere, Premier Foods was under pressure, off 2.5p to 28p, as it scrapped its previously announced half-year dividend. Premier said trading was in line with expectations and added that lenders had agreed to defer a covenant test.

On a brighter note, Barratt Developments rose 5% or 3.25p to 67.75p – after it reported a pick up in visitor levels over recent weeks. With inflation figures pointing to further interest rate cuts, other housebuilders were in positive territory. Bovis added 14.75p to 337.5p and Persimmon rose 0.75p to 247.75p.

The biggest Footsie risers were Antofagasta up 28.25p at 345p, Friends Provident ahead 6.1p at 77.1p, Aviva up 30p at 379.75p and Wolseley ahead 21.75p at 293p.

The biggest fallers were HBOS off 11.5p at 63p, Lloyds TSB off 17.8p at 131.2p, Xstrata down 76.5p at 800p and Icap which finished down 21.5p at 230p.

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