London’s leading shares index made cautious gains today despite ratings downgrades for six of the world’s largest banks.
Citing the challenging financial markets, Fitch lowered its long-term rating on Barclays to ’A’ from ’AA-’ and took similar action on Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse.
But the development failed to unsettle the FTSE 100 Index, which climbed 24.5 points to 5425.3 during thin pre-Christmas trading, with Barclays among the biggest risers, up 2.7p at 173.1p.
Elsewhere in the banking sector, Royal Bank of Scotland was 0.5p higher at 20.2p, HSBC added 5.9p to 488.3p and Lloyds Banking Group was up 0.4p at 24.5p.
Commodity stocks were the driving force behind the market’s rise as they recovered some of their recent falls caused by the economic gloom. Antofagasta was the biggest riser up 40p at 1170p, while Kazakhmys was ahead 29.8p at 876.8p.
The mood was improved after members of the junior partner in Germany’s coalition averted a possible crisis by rejecting a bid by rebel members to turn the party against the eurozone bailout fund.
There was also cheer that the Italian Government won a confidence vote over the austerity measures designed to shore up the debt-laden country’s finances.
Meanwhile, Sports Direct International shares were 7% higher after it withdrew its interest in buying the UK’s biggest outdoor retailer Blacks Leisure.
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct chain, which owns 22.5% of Blacks, had said on Tuesday it was among the interested parties but today ruled itself out. While its shares were 13.6p higher at 203.6p, Blacks slumped another 11%, or 0.25p to 2p, giving it a market value of just £1.6m.
The stricken firm, which owns 98 Blacks outlets, 208 Millets stores and the Peter Storm and Eurohike brands, put itself up for sale earlier this month as it struggles under a £36m debt pile amid dire trading.
Shares in Spirit Pub Company, which has around 1,350 pubs, climbed after it said like-for-like sales increased by 6.2% in the 16 weeks to December 10, a faster rate of growth than in the first eight weeks of the period, with food sales up 7.9%.
The company, which was demerged from Punch Taverns in the summer, said demand for food at its traditionally drink-led pubs was boosted by the roll out of its Flaming Grill concept, which offers dishes such as firecracker fajitas. Shares rose 0.8p to 41.3p.
Meanwhile, shares at Punch Tavern dropped 0.3p to 10.8p even though it said the declines in like-for-like income at its core estate of 2,948 leasehold pubs improved in the same period.