FTSE briefly breaks 6,000 mark in final pre-holiday trading

LONDON'S last full trading day before Christmas saw the lead share index briefly break the symbolic 6,000 mark before finally closing at 5,982.

Energy shares led the rally with BP up 1.4 per cent, underpinned by gains in the price of crude, which held around $90 (£58.30) a barrel and neared a two-year high.

Some consumer-facing stocks enjoyed a reprieve after days of pressure from near-arctic weather across most of Britain. With temperatures beginning to rise, retailers hoped for a last-minute dash to the shops.

DIY stores group Kingfisher rose 2.2 per cent and fashion retailer Next gained 1.8 per cent.

Tour operator TUI Travel was ahead 2.5 per cent as more travellers were able to leave on Christmas breaks.

But trading volumes were anaemic at just 38 per cent of the 90-day average on the final full-day session before the Christmas break.

Banking shares failed to join the rally, reined back by fresh uncertainty over Europe's debt situation after Fitch Ratings downgraded Hungary almost to junk debt status.

Miners were the main drag with metals prices cooling after a recent rally. Xstrata was among the worst off, down 1.1 per cent.

Rio Tinto shed one per cent as it offered an agreed $3.9bn to buy African-focused coal miner Riversdale in a deal expected to be challenged by rivals.

ARM Holdings was a top blue-chip faller, down 2.4 per cent after having soared nine per cent higher on Thursday, on reports of a possible breakthrough move with Microsoft.

There was a flurry of positive macroeconomic data out in the United States, reinforcing views of a solid economic growth pace in the fourth quarter – but the markets failed to respond and made limited gains.

The Dow reacted positively to the data but trading was limited ahead of the Christmas break.

Weak house sales hit housebuilders. DR Horton, Lennar and PulteGroup are all lower while rumours of a potential $22 a share bid next year pushed Alcoa higher. 

“US markets opened a little on the soft side after yesterday’s gains as economic data released earlier came in slightly below expectations,” said Michael Hewson, market analyst at CMC Markets. “The biggest risers are Alcoa and Verizon while financials are a drag with Bank of America lower.”