FTSE ends in positive territory

Another strong session for blue chip insurers helped London’s leading share index close in positive territory today, despite heavy falls among banks.

Another strong session for blue chip insurers helped London’s leading share index close in positive territory today, despite heavy falls among banks.

Prudential shares climbed another 17%, with rivals also seeing double digit gains in an extended rally for the sector.

Bank declines held back wider gains on the FTSE 100 Index – closing up 25.9 points at 3842.9 – as Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland eased back after yesterday’s impressive rises.

Wall Street fluctuated in early trade ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Investors were hoping for more insights into the Fed’s plans after it announced a $1 trillion US dollar (€736bn) economic stimulus package earlier in the week.

In London, insurers claimed the top four places on the risers board as sentiment on the sector remained positive in the wake of well-received results from Prudential the previous session.

The Pru was up 47.25p to 332.75p, while Legal & General jumped 12% – 4.7p to 42.8p – ahead of its own full-year results presentation next week.

Among other stocks, Standard Life cheered 22.9p to 188p.

Lloyds Banking Group was the only blue-chip bank in the black, improving 0.9p to 55.3p.

Barclays fell 7.5p to 105p, while Asian-facing Standard Chartered was down by 15p at 895p.

HSBC, which is in the process of completing a record £12.5bn (€13.3bn) fundraising, suffered more volatility as shares dropped 22.24p to 371p.

Shareholders gave the rights issue the go-ahead yesterday, which is set to see new shares start trading on April 8.

Property group British Land was also in the red, by 20.75p to 375.25p, after a downgrade from broker Collins Stewart.

In the retail sector, Marks & Spencer had a tough session after S&P Equity Research placed the general merchandise trader at sell.

M&S shares fell 2.25p to 273.25p, while Next dropped 13p to 1286p ahead of full-year results next week. Supermarket giant Tesco fell 6.6p to 322.3p but Sainsbury’s bucked the trend by climbing 4.5p to 313p, a gain of more than 1%.

On a quiet day for corporate news, collectibles firm Stanley Gibbons rose 6.5p to 95.5p – a 7% increase – after it reported a fall in full-year profits but said recent trading had been strong because of the impact of low savings rates on investors.

Elsewhere, the UK’s largest pawnbroker H&T Group rose 3%, or 5p to 192.5p, after it reported a 36.5% rise in pre-tax profits and spoke of plans to double its high street estate.

It said results had been boosted by its expansion programme, new customers amid the credit crunch and the rising price of gold.

The biggest Footsie risers were Prudential ahead 47.25p at 332.75p, Standard Life up 22.9p at 188p, Legal & General up 4.7p at 42.8p and Aviva up 19.25p at 238p.

The biggest fallers were Barclays down 7.5p at 105p, HSBC down 22.24p at 371p, British Land off 20.75p at 375.25p and Amec down 18.5p at 534.5p.

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