The London market struggled to make headway this afternoon after oil prices retreated and retailers Next and Marks & Spencer suffered further losses.
Royal Dutch Shell was one of the market’s biggest fallers, down 2% or 29.5p to 1825.5p, as the price of a barrel of oil fell back below $83.
Financial stocks offset some of the weakness but the FTSE 100 Index reached lunchtime 10.5 points lower at 5516.3. The prospect of US non-farm payroll figures later in the session added to the uncertainty.
Other high profile fallers included heavyweight players in the retail sector as fears over 2010 trading prospects showed no sign of easing.
M&S continued its poor run by falling 3p to 368p, while Next dropped 41p to 2018p and Home Retail Group dipped 2.6p to 277.6p.
Vodafone fell for a second successive session after US firm Verizon Wireless played down hopes that the pair’s joint venture will pay a dividend later this year. Vodafone shares were down 1.4p at 137.4p.
Barclays was one of the beneficiaries of the rally for financial stocks, rising 5.2p to 320.7p and extending its recent strong run after broker UBS upgraded its rating on the stock from neutral to buy.
It was joined on the way up by insurer Aviva, which lifted 10.7p to 413.7p, and by Legal & General after a gain of 2.2p to 84p.
The latest round of trading updates from consumer-facing firms delivered positive news, with Mitchells & Butlers up 9% in the FTSE 250 Index after revealing like-for-like sales rose by a “strong” 3.4% in the six weeks to January 2.
Shares in the All Bar One operator were 18.7p higher at 271p, while rival JD Wetherspoon added 26.8p to 467.8p.
Ted Baker was another firm on the front foot – up 8p to 513p – after it revealed a 19.1% rise in retail sales and said it was performing ahead of hopes in the UK. Investec Securities upped its profits forecast by 7% following the update.
And Mecca bingo firm Rank rose 1.2p to 90.75p after the launch of new-style casinos helped its Grosvenor division report like-for-like revenues growth of 4% in the 12 weeks to December 27.
Aberdeen Asset Management was the biggest faller in the FTSE 250 Index after it acquired part of Royal Bank of Scotland’s asset management business for £84.7m (€94.7m).
With Aberdeen issuing new stock in order to finance the deal, shares fell 3.9p to 134.7p.