Slight fall for FTSE

Insurers were back in the red today after Legal & General slashed its dividend for the first time in the group's history and posted plunging profits.

Insurers were back in the red today after Legal & General slashed its dividend for the first time in the group's history and posted plunging profits.

The group, which posted full-year losses of £1.5bn (€1.6bn), saw shares dive 7% and dragged rivals lower.

A strong start to trading on Wall Street helped limit losses on the wider FTSE 100 Index, which closed 11.2 points down at 3900.3.

It clawed its way back from an earlier fall of more than 50 points after news of the first failure of a Government bonds auction in seven years rattled investor nerves.

The Debt Management Office said it had been unable to attract enough bidders for £1.75bn (€1.87bn) of Treasury gilts maturing in 2049.

Among insurers L&G fell 3.1p to 39.7p following news it had halved its dividend and was seeing profits come under pressure amid the stock market volatility.

Aviva was 11% lower, off 31p at 236p, as the dividend move by L&G heightened focus on the Norwich Union firm's recent decision to hold its shareholder payout, despite concerns about the sector's capital strength.

Standard Life was also down, by 6.4p to 177.7p. It announced the hunt for a successor to chief executive of five years, Sandy Crombie.

But detection and medical equipment group Smiths suffered the worst decline, dropping 14% or 118p to 703.5p after revealing group sales fell 3% and pre-tax profits slid 17% to £159m (€170.2) in the six months to January 31.

The cautious mood of the market meant TUI Travel and Sainsbury's both struggled despite upbeat trading statements.

The Thomson Holidays firm reported a surge in demand for summer holidays over the last four weeks, but shares were 0.75p lower at 235.75p.

Meanwhile, shares in Sainsbury's failed to capitalise on a strong fourth quarter trading update, with like-for-like sales ahead of City expectations after a gain of 6.2% in the 11 weeks to March 21.

Shares were 7.25p lower at 323.5p, while rival Tesco moved in the opposite direction, up 3.2p at 332.8p on hopes that it will have benefited from the better-than-expected trading conditions.

Elsewhere in the retail sector, Next shares were more than 2% lower - down 30p at 1294p - as the chain gave up gains seen yesterday. The company is due to post its full-year results tomorrow.

Shares in Blacks Leisure tumbled 16% - down 6.25p to 32.25p - after it said takeover talks had ended. While Blacks has never disclosed the parties involved, speculation has centred on interest from Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley and Lion Capital, the owner of outdoor equipment and clothing chain Cotswold Outdoor.

Elsewhere JJB Sports rose 8% - 1p to 14p - after founder Dave Whelan confirmed his purchase of the struggling chain's fitness clubs business.

The biggest Footsie risers were Lloyds Banking Group up 3.8p to 61.8p, Barclays ahead 5.6p at 123.4p, Liberty International up 18p at 429p and Randgold Resources up 146p at 3666p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Smiths Group down 118p at 703.5p, Aviva down 31p at 236p, Legal & General down 3.1p at 39.7p and Invensys off 11.8p at 165.2p.

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