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Good festive trading figures fail to lift FTSE

STRONG Christmas trading updates lifted Argos owner Home Retail Group and Halfords but were unable to inspire the wider share market as it failed to build on the gains of the previous session.

A fresh round of festive trading bulletins provided mainly positive figures, with Home Retail Group additionally boosted by an upgrade to the City's profit forecasts.

Elsewhere investors were content to sit on recent gains to leave the FTSE 100 Index drifting 4.4 points lower to 6815.4.

France's Cac 40 and Germany's Dax slid into the red amid profit-taking while in New York the Dow Jones Industrial Average went into reverse too - amid disappointing earnings figures from US bank Citigroup. On currency markets, sterling was flat at 1.63 US dollars and 1.20  euros.

In London, Halfords set the pace in the FTSE 250 after the retailer reported a 5.2% rise in like-for-like sales, driven by significant growth in its bicycle department. Shares responded with a gain of nearly 7%, up 31.5p to 492.5p.

Home Retail Group was 3.1p higher to 204.1p, after Argos same-store sales rose 3.8% and its Homebase DIY chain improved by 4.7%.

It now expects its profits to be towards the top end of the current range of market expectations of £90 million to £109m.

Dixons Retail Group, which owns PC World and Currys, saw like-for-like sales rise 5% in the UK and Ireland but margins were slightly lower. Shares were down more than 6%, or 3.3p, to 47.1p.

Chief executive Sebastian James said it had been a "lively Christmas with plenty of ups and downs" but added a note of caution by saying the recovery in the UK was still at a "fledgling" stage.

Elsewhere, shares in bookmaker Ladbrokes were 3p higher to 176p amid relief that it expects profits for the year to meet City forecasts. The stock has fallen recently due to a run of football results and the threat of regulation on fixed odds gaming machines.

Miners led the way in the top-flight after Rio Tinto's well-received fourth-quarter results that saw record iron ore production and cost cutting ahead of target for the year.

It prompted analysts at Canaccord Genuity to predict a small upgrade to earnings predictions as the stock climbed 2%, or 80.5p, to 3334.5p.

But it was fellow miner Antofagasta that topped the FTSE 100 risers' board, climbing 5%, or 42.5p, to 832.5p, while Fresnillo was up 36.5p to 732.5p.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Antofagasta, Fresnillo, Tullow Oil, which was up 44.5p to 907.5p and Anglo American, up 65p to 1397.5p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Intertek, down 100p to 2879p, BSkyB, down 24.5p to 845p, Mondi, down 29p to 1014p and Associated British Foods, down 71p to 2625p.

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