Chancellor Alistair Darling’s pre-election Budget did little for the London market today despite slightly better news on the public finances.
The FTSE 100 Index finished 4.3 points ahead at 5677.9 as Mr Darling said borrowing would be £11bn (€12.3bn) below forecast this year, but there were few policy give-aways in a fiscally-neutral Budget.
Tim Hughes, head of sales trading at IG Index, said: “This year’s Budget isn’t likely to start any financial fires, and with Mr Darling perhaps more concerned with putting out political ones the announcement seems to have been something of a non-event.”
A rare exception was the lifting of the stamp duty threshold to £250,000(€279,000) for first-time buyers, which helped a raft of housebuilders in the FTSE 250.
The aid to the housing market saw Bellway add 40.5p to 760p – also helped by decent results – Barratt cheer 3.9p to 128.5p, and Persimmon advance 13.7p to 459.7p.
Wall Street offered little support to the top flight after early falls while more sovereign debt spectres helped the dollar strengthen against the euro and sterling, pushing the pound back below 1.50.
In London, travel firms gave back early gains after Thomson Holidays owner TUI Travel said demand for holidays was continuing to improve strongly.
TUI edged 3p down to 301.2p as shares took a breather after strong recent gains, but fellow tour operator Thomas Cook crawled 0.3p ahead to 256.1p after leading the Footsie early on.
Hedge fund giant Man was a prominent riser, adding 4p to 246.7p or 2% despite another fall in assets under management in a trading update.
Investors took heart from a better recent performance by its AHL fund and its decision to hold the dividend unchanged.
Industrial engineering also gained after the firm lifted interim profits 7% despite flat sales and said it was “well-placed” for the rest of the year. Shares added 17p to 1156p.
But fourth quarter figures from supermarket Sainsbury’s failed to add momentum to its shares, which lost 0.5p to 327.6p as it confirmed expectations for a further slowdown in sales, up 1.7% in the 11 weeks to March 30.
Top-flight fallers included life and pensions giant Aviva and InterContinental Hotels, down 17.7p to 383.9p and 21p to 1019p respectively after the stocks turned ex-dividend – meaning shareholders will no longer be entitled to the latest payout.
All Bar One pubs group Mitchells & Butlers gained 4% or 10.9p to 302p in the FTSE 250 after the firm announced a strategic review which will see it concentrate on growing its food business.
Low cost carrier easyJet meanwhile confirmed that Guardian Media Group chief executive Carolyn McCall is to become its new boss. Shares in the airline were down 4.6p to 448.9p.
The biggest Footsie risers were Petrofac ahead 27p at 1255p, Shire up 31p at 1509p, Lloyds up 1.2p at 64.2p and Man Group up 4p at 246.7p.
The biggest Footsie fallers were Aviva down 17.7p at 383.9p, Fresnillo off 20p at 819p, Wolseley down 36p at 1558p and InterContinental Hotels down 21p at 1019p.