British housebuilders received a Budget boost today after Chancellor George Osborne delivered a raft of measures to help Britons get on the housing ladder.
Under the proposed £3.5bn Help-to-Buy scheme, the British government will provide an interest-free loan worth 20% of the value of a new-build house to help those with a 5% deposit to buy their first home.
The move came as a further lift for housebuilding shares after recent improved fortunes, although the Budget overall failed to cheer the London market as the FTSE 100 Index suffered its fourth day of losses in a row, slipping 8.6 points to 6432.7.
The decline comes amid uncertainty over the bailout of debt-laden Cyprus and was compounded by more bad news on the UK economy after figures showed the first increase in unemployment in a year.
And in a further sign of the squeeze on household budgets, average weekly earnings rose by 1.2% in the three months to January, down from 1.3% between October and December last year and less than half the rate of inflation.
The pound showed little reaction to the Budget’s gloomy confirmation of growth downgrades and higher-than-expected borrowing, holding firm at $1.51 and €1.17.
Mining stocks were again shaken by the uncertain global outlook, with Anglo American down by 47p to 1773p.
And Marks & Spencer shares lost some of their recent takeover strength after analysts at Nomura estimated that clothing sales declined by a double-digit percentage figure in the four weeks to February 17. The performance has been impacted by the timing of half-term and the weather, but shares still fell 5.7p to 392.4p.
Royal Bank of Scotland rose 2%, or 6.6p to 300.2p, as Liberum Capital backed chief executive Stephen Hester’s turnaround efforts by recommending that investors now buy shares in the part-nationalised bank.
Outside the top flight, bakery chain Greggs dropped 8%, down 43.5p to 480p, after it admitted sales remained under pressure amid tough high street trading that left annual profits 2% lower at £51.9 million in the year to December 29.
Among the housebuilders, Barratt Developments rose 15.8p to 255.6p, Taylor Wimpey lifted 5.25p to 90.85p and Persimmon improved 38.5p to 1010p.
And the stock market comeback for estate agency Countrywide got off to a robust start, as it was valued at more than £800m on flotation.
Shares in the group, which has 931 branches and trades through brands including Bairstow Eves, Gascoigne-Pees and Hamptons International, began conditional dealings at 350p a share before rising 13% to 397p.
There was also a Budget boost for pub group JD Wetherspoon after Mr Osborne brought some cheer to the nation’s beer drinkers by scrapping a duty escalator blamed for closing pubs and cutting duty by 1p.
The stock rose 9.5p to 537.5p.
The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Royal Bank of Scotland up 6.6p to 300.2p, Rolls-Royce ahead 22p to 1131p, RSA Insurance 2p higher at 117.3p and Babcock International up 18p at 1100p.
The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Anglo American down 47p to 1773p, Aviva off 8.2p to 315p, Eurasian Natural Resources 5.8p lower at 306.9p and International Airlines Group down 4.9p to 262.4p.