The FTSE 100 Index edged back into positive territory today despite weaker-than-expected official sales figures putting pressure on retailers.
Next, Argos owner Home Retail Group and B&Q firm Kingfisher all lost ground after a surprise 0.6% sales volume decline for May.
The wider Footsie languished in the red for much of the session but a strong start on Wall Street helped it rally back after upbeat economic news. The top flight eventually finished 2.4 points ahead at 4280.9.
With little in the way of corporate news to drive stocks, investors took their lead from US markets boosted by falling jobless claims and research signalling rising output in May.
This came after remarks from Bank of England governor Mervyn King that the UK economy may have stabilised, helping to steady nerves in London.
But the retail figures ensured a tricky session for many players in the sector, with Next off 34p at 1428p, and Home Retail Group 1p lighter at 254.75p.
B&Q firm Kingfisher eased 1.8p to 178.7p, while in the second tier Currys owner DSG International fell 1.5p to 22.5p and Comet firm Kesa Electricals lost 6.5p to 107.75p.
There are fears in the City that May’s figures mark the start of a prolonged slump in high street spending, given the rise in jobless numbers and continued high levels of personal debt.
Back in the top flight, the mining sector endured another difficult session after heavy falls yesterday, with Rio Tinto down 105p at 2049p and Kazakhmys off 8p at 620.5p. Randgold Resources was off 67p to 3929p.
Lloyds Banking Group gained 2.2p to 69.3p to climb the risers’ board after an upgrade from Macquarie. Royal Bank of Scotland also added 1p to 38p despite the broker cutting its rating on the same bank.
The improvement came as RBS said it had come to an agreement with former chief executive Fred Goodwin about a voluntary cut to his pension pot, which will see his payout reduced to £342,500 (€401,000) a year.
Chairman Philip Hampton said the resolution meant RBS could now focus its efforts on getting the company back to health.
Among the supermarkets Sainsbury’s recovered ground after heavy falls yesterday following its surprise fundraising, cheering 4p to 317p after a Merrill Lynch upgrade. Rival Morrisons was up 3.5p to 244p.
On the corporate front, Cadbury shares were up 3p to 525p after it said it remained on course to meet revenues targets, helped by strong trading in the UK.
But elsewhere pubs group Marston’s was down 16% after it asked shareholders for £176m (€206m) to fund the acquisition of new pubs. Shares were off 22.25p at 118p.
The four biggest Footsie risers were Carnival up 105p at 1571p, Man Group ahead 11.25p at 286.25p, Lloyds up 2.2p at 69.3p, and RSA Insurance ahead 3.4p at 123.6p.
The biggest Footsie fallers were Rio Tinto down 105p at 2049p, Rexam off 10.25p at 275p, Aviva down 10.75p at 318.25p and Fresnillo down 17.5p at 551p.