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William Hill gallops off as Footsie stays put

Blue chips William Hill and Pearson saw contrasting fortunes today as annual figures thrust the pair in the spotlight in a busy session for corporate results.

Bookmaker William Hill enjoyed a shares boost after "sparkling" figures from its online arm, but textbook and Financial Times publisher ­Pearson was suffering hefty losses after it warned over 2014 profits.

The wider FTSE 100 Index clung to its opening mark, down 0.6 points to 6809.7, despite a buoyant start to trading on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average leapt more than 100 points higher in early session trading as investors looked past a downward revision to US economic growth in the fourth quarter, to 2.4% from 3.2%, and focused on strong manufacturing data out of Chicago.

In currency markets, the pound rose a cent to 1.67 US dollars, edging back towards the four-year high of 1.68 dollars hit last week. Sterling held firm at 1.21 euros.

William Hill was one of those on the front foot in London after results showed further impressive growth in its online sports book and a resilient result at its core betting shop business.

Despite annual profits falling 6% to £257 million, shares rallied 22.8p to 397.6p, a rise of 6%.

The UK's biggest bookie said mobile gaming net revenue leapt 175% higher last year on a 52-week basis, helping overall online sales rise 12% to £446.3 million.

Pearson moved in the opposite direction, down 6% or 63p to 1013p, after it said pressures in North America were expected to continue due to an ongoing decline in US college enrolments - a trend which also left 2013 pre-tax profits 2% lower at £382 million.

The group slashed its guidance for 2014, saying earnings per share would be between 62p and 67p in 2014 against expectations for a rise to 75p a share.

Temporary power firm Aggreko was also sharply lower after it lost its chief exec Rupert Soames to private security firm Serco.

The summer move was welcomed by shareholders of the troubled outsourcing company as the FTSE 250 stock jumped 12% or 49.7p to 460.5p.

But Aggreko was down 70p at 1560p in the top flight.

British Airways owner International Airlines Group was also in the spotlight after it moved back into profit and reported "huge progress" in the turnaround of Spanish carrier Iberia.

The group - which was formed from the merger of BA and Iberia in 2011 - posted an operating profit of 770 million euros (£631 million) last year, against the 23 million euro loss seen a year earlier.

It said British Airways continued its solid performance with profits up £377 million to £651 million. However, shares slipped 14.8p to 437p following a recent strong run for the stock.

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