Commodity stocks prop up FTSE

Commodity stocks propped up the FTSE 100 Index today despite a more difficult session for retailers in the wake of Woolworths’ closing-down sale.

Commodity stocks propped up the FTSE 100 Index today despite a more difficult session for retailers in the wake of Woolworths’ closing-down sale.

The top flight closed 21.4 points ahead at 4388.7 as higher metal and crude oil prices led to gains for miners and the petrochemical majors.

This outweighed a tricky day for retail stocks as Tesco announced a 50% off sale and an update from high street music and books chain HMV disappointed markets.

Wall Street also opened lower amid caution over the details of a multi-billion dollar rescue for the “big three” car makers and a spike in unemployment claims to a 26-year high.

In London, FTSE 250 stock HMV’s half-year results did little for confidence on the high street after it reported a weakening in recent sales, particularly in its books division. Shares fell 3.25p to 107.75p, or 3%.

Other retailers feeling the strain included Marks & Spencer, although it crept into the black at the close to finish 0.75p ahead at 232p. But supermarket Tesco was off 6.6p at 328.7p after it confirmed plans for a half-price sale on 1,000 products.

The industry has been shaken by the demise of Woolworths and the firesale of its products in the closing down sale – sparking fears of a painful price war.

In the FTSE 250, Game Group – another potential victim of the Woolies’ closing down sale – was 3.75p lower at 119.75p, although Debenhams bucked the gloom with a rise of 1.25p to 24p, or 5%.

Back in the top flight, oil prices rose off recent lows to above 45 US dollars a barrel as the International Energy Agency predicted a rise in demand during 2009.

With oil cartel Opec also looking likely to announce a production cut next week, BP gained almost 5% or 24.75p to 537.5p and BG Group was 50.5p better at 989.5p.

The leading riser was Tullow Oil, up almost 17% or 101p to 596.5p after new finds in Ghana and Uganda.

But insurers had a difficult session after Goldman Sachs dropped Aviva from its conviction “buy” list. Aviva shed 11.75p to 399p, although others in the sector fared much worse.

Life and pensions firm Friends Provident was the worst top-flight performer as shares fell 8.2p to 79.8p, or 10%. It was closely followed by Standard Life, which fell 19p to 268p.

Other prominent fallers included British Airways, which fell 7.9p to 165p – or 5% – on the higher oil costs.

The leading faller in the FTSE 250 was specialist sub-prime lender Cattles. The company dropped 7p to 30p – a plunge of more than 23% – after it said its application to the Financial Services Authority for a deposit-taking licence was taking longer than expected.

The biggest Footsie risers were Tullow Oil up 101p at 596p, Cairn Energy ahead 196p at 1840p, Lonmin up 49.5p at 709.5p and BG Group ahead 50.5p at 989.5p.

The biggest fallers were Friends Provident down 8.2p at 79.8p, Standard Life off 19p at 268p, Legal & General down 5.1p at 75.4p and Lloyds TSB off 9.1p at 158p.

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