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Sluggish UK service sector hits markets

MARKETS struggled for ­direction yesterday despite the announcement of a long-awaited package of measures by China designed to boost flagging growth in the world's second-biggest economy.

A decision by the European Central Bank (ECB) not to boost stimulus, together with lacklustre economic data from the US ahead of the release of key jobs figures, plus declining UK service sector growth, pulled in a negative direction.

It meant the FTSE 100 Index remained close to its opening mark, slipping 9.9 points to 6649.1.

On currency markets, sterling rose a little against the single currency after the ECB'S Mario Draghi insisted that it stood ready to loosen monetary policy should the economic outlook worsen. The pound stood at 1.21 euros and 1.66 US dollars.

Equities had started the day in slightly more positive mood after China unveiled its so-called mini stimulus, including additional spending on railways and tax relief for small businesses.

Economic updates from the UK and Europe were less encouraging, with closely-watched surveys from the services sector proving a disappointment.

A fall in the pace of growth in the sector in Britain completed a hat-trick of weakening data after more sluggish expansion in construction and manufacturing was revealed earlier this week.

On the stock market, online takeaway service Just Eat delivered a strong start to trading in its £1.5 billion debut, the biggest UK technology initial public offering in eight years. Shares were priced at 260p, but closed nearly 9%, or 23p, higher at 283p.

B&Q parent Kingfisher was also making gains after it revealed talks to buy France's Mr Bricolage in a deal worth €275 million (£227m).

The firm, which already owns Castorama and Brico Depot in France, is proposing initially to acquire 68.1% of the firm's share capital - from the majority shareholders. It then intends to make a subsequent offer to buy shares from minority shareholders at the same price.

Kingfisher chief executive Sir Ian Cheshire said it represented "an attractive growth opportunity" and shares lifted 3%, or 13p to 444.2p.

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Freddie George said: "Mr Bricolage looks a compelling acquisition for Kingfisher and will strengthen its number one position in the French DIY market."

Home wares chain Dunelm was a big riser in the FTSE 250 after posting a 5% hike in third quarter like-for-like sales. Shares rose nearly 4%, or 34.5p, to 1006p.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Tullow Oil, up 47p to 800p, Aberdeen Asset Management up 18.5p to 433.5p, Burberry up 42p to 1432p and Kingfisher up 13p to 444.2p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were BSkyB down 26.5p to 892.5p, Royal Mail down 11.5p to 550.5p, Severn Trent down 37p to 1818p and Royal Bank of Scotland down 6p to 316.9p.

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