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AstraZeneca shares rise in early trading

Markets struggled for direction today after minutes from the US Federal Reserve's latest meeting appeared to suggest policy makers were preparing to raise interest rates sooner than previously thought.

The prospect of central bank stimulus being withdrawn was balanced by more positive sentiment drawn from the minutes - that the reason behind this is that economic recovery is now strong enough for this to take place.

It helped New York's Dow Jones Industrial Average to climb but gains in London were more cautious, with the FTSE 100 Index up just 9.9 points to 6765.4.

Germany's Dax also showed muted gains with France's Cac 40 flat.

In stocks, drugs firm AstraZeneca was among the strongest risers on the FTSE 100 following a report that US rival Pfizer, which earlier this year staged a failed £69 billion takeover attempt, had not given up on striking an overseas acquisition.

It came as Astra announced that it had signed a deal with gene sequencing company Illumina to develop a platform for tests for its cancer drugs. Shares rose nearly 2%, or 82p, to 4367p.

In the FTSE 250, retailer WH Smith was ahead after a pre-close trading update that disclosed full-year results for the year to the end of August were likely to be in line with market expectations. Shares rose 6p to 1128p.

Meanwhile engineering contractor Costain cheered investors by announcing a record order book after securing work on a series of major infrastructure projects, and ramping up its dividend by a third. Shares rose 3.5p to 276.5p.

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