FTSE maintains gains

A strong session for retail and financial stocks helped maintain gains on the London market today as UK stocks continued to recover recent lost ground.

A strong session for retail and financial stocks helped maintain gains on the London market today as UK stocks continued to recover recent lost ground.

The FTSE 100 Index has risen for six of its last seven sessions and increased another 22.4 points to 5266.5, with futures trading also pointing to a strong opening on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average saw a 1.7% hike overnight thanks to a positive batch of corporate earnings and an upbeat survey on general business conditions.

In London, there was little reaction to the minutes of the latest Bank of England rates meeting, which showed policymakers were unanimous over their decision to pause their quantitative easing programme, despite the UK’s crawl out of recession.

Among stocks, the boost from Barclay’s record annual profits haul yesterday providing further momentum for bank shares.

Part-nationalised Lloyds Banking Group rose 2%, or 1.21p to 50.21p and Barclays added another 7.15p gain to 300.9p after a 7% hike the previous session following news of a 92% jump in profits to £11.6bn (€13.3bn), at the top end of expectations.

Royal Bank of Scotland also cheered, up 0.61p to 33.87p.

Shares in Man Group, which have suffered a slide in fortunes in recent weeks, showed signs of life with a gain of 13.7p to 241.5p. Traders pointed to rumours of possible bid interest from US firm BlackRock.

Insurer Legal & General was another financial stock on the front foot after it said 2009 trading figures were well ahead of expectations.

It also forecast a rebound in core UK markets in 2010, leading to a shares rise of 2.15p to 76.5p – a rise of 3%.

Fellow life and pensions groups likewise moved higher as investors welcomed news of a bounce back in the sector, with Prudential up 15p at 599.5p.

Retailers joined them on the risers board, led by B&Q parent Kingfisher and Home Retail Group, ahead 7.3p at 213.6p and 8.6p at 267.2p respectively, thanks to a broker upgrade for Argos and Homebase firm Home Retail.

But a number of stocks fell as they turned ex-dividend, meaning new investors will not take part in the next dividend payout, including energy group Scottish & Southern, down 29p to 1154p, and oil giant BP, off 9.1p at 579.1p.

Outside the top flight, shares in rail and plant firm Jarvis fell 8% – down 15p to 11.25p – as it braced investors for a £5m (€5.7m) operating loss in the year to April, due to spending delays from Network Rail.

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