FTSE closes flat as miners and banks fall, while pharmaceuticals gather pace

BRITAIN’S top shares ended flat yesterday as banks and miners paused for breath after recent gains, offsetting a rally in drugmakers and energy stocks.

The FTSE 100 finished almost unchanged at 5,642.62, having closed at a 21-month closing peak on Wednesday.

Banks and miners slipped after recent strong gains, with Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group falling 1.8 to 3.6 per cent.

Miners were weighed down by weaker metals prices, which fell as the dollar strengthened. Vedanta, Fresnillo, Kazakhmys and Antofagasta shed 1.7 to 2.4 per cent.

GlaxoSmithKline was the biggest climber on the FTSE leader board, up 3.9 per cent, after Novartis handed back US rights to a drug widely thought to be a generic copy of its blockbuster Advair.
Energy stocks were also higher, led by BG Group, up 1.5 per cent on market talk of Exxon Mobil’s interest in the company.

BP and Cairn Energy rose 0.4 and 1.5 per cent respectively.

Marks & Spencer added 0.6 per cent. The retailer has started the search for a new chairman to replace Stuart Rose, who will step down by March 2011.

Arriva rose 4.6 per cent after Deutsche Bahn confirmed it is in talks over a possible bid for the company.

Wellstream climbed 6.8 per cent after the Daily Mail reported mounting speculation of a potential 800 pence per share approach from Italy’s ENI.

Electronics components distributor Premier Farnell reported a return to profit growth in the fourth quarter, prompting an upgrade on its stock and sending its shares up 9.8 per cent.