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Blue-chip shares do well in Ukraine unrest

Improved sentiment on Wall Street helped blue-chip shares shake off worries over Ukraine and wipe out early session losses.

London's FTSE 100 Index closed 22.1 points ahead at 6583.8 after US retail sales notched up their biggest increase since 2012.

Meanwhile, a better-than-expected set of results from Citigroup eased fears over America's corporate profits that had earlier weighed on stocks.

Germany's Dax and France's Cac 40 also ended ahead, while New York's Dow Jones Industrial Average was up at the time of the close in London. On currency markets, the pound held its own at 1.67 US dollars and 1.21 euros.

In London, a choppy day of trading had seen the FTSE 100 start in the red as it followed overnight falls in Asia, adding to a 2% decline for the top-flight over the course of last week.

The downcast mood was compounded by Ukraine's government announcing that it was sending in troops to try to quash a pro-Russian insurgency in the east of the country, despite warnings from the Kremlin.

Poor sentiment was also linked to anxiety about faltering profits among leading US-listed companies, with analysts expecting earnings for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 to drop 1.6% from a year earlier.

But this was brushed aside as traders took heart from the more positive signs from the US on Citigroup and retail sales.

It was also a strong session for commodities-based stocks after Glencore Xstrata announced a deal worth 5.85 billion US dollars (£3.5 billion) to sell its interest in the Las Bambas copper mine in Peru to Chinese investors.

Glencore's shares were 6.3p higher at 317.9p, while the read-across for other copper miners resulted in a rise of 17p to 842p for Chile's Antofagasta.

The ongoing pressure on tech stocks meant chip designer ARM Holdings slipped another 4p to 954.5p while Imagination Technologies was 2.8p lower at 196.9p in the FTSE 250 Index. Defensive stocks were doing better, with drugs giant Reckitt Benckiser up 99p to 4833p, Imperial Tobacco ahead 27p to 2474p and Unilever rising 28p to 2663p.

Plant hire firm Ashtead was the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 Index as ongoing uncertainty over the outlook for the US economy impacted on sentiment surrounding its US arm Sunbelt. Shares fell 4% or 38p to 842p.

Elsewhere, shares in fashion retailer French Connection soared after it posted a big rise in sales amid more evidence that its recovery efforts are starting to pay off. Shares jumped by 11%, or 7.2p, to 74.2p to leave the stock at its highest level since late 2011.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Sainsbury's up 16.9p to 326.5p, Tullow Oil up 32p to 859p, Randgold Resources up 170p to 4845p and Tesco up 8.3p to 289.4p

The biggest fallers were Ashtead down 38p to 842p, Hargreaves Lansdown off 50p at 1207p, Sports Direct down 30.5p to 740.5p, and Barratt Developments down 14.8p to 371.5p.

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