FTSE lifted by Shell and Barclays boost

The FTSE 100 opened on the front foot today with gains fuelled by the energy sector after Shell reported encouraging fourth quarter profits. In banking Barclays announced a 22 per cent rise in first quarter earnings, which also helped to inject some momentum into the market.

Investors shrugged off yesterday’s bleak news that the UK had technically slumped back into recession. Shell was the leading light, up three per cent, after an 11 per cent profit triggered by higher oil prices.

Meanwhile consumer giant Unilever was up more than two per cent after also issuing an upbeat trading update in which it said price hikes on its goods had helped to raise profits.

Whitbread lifted by 2.9 per cent after it announced an earnings rise attributed to the strong performance of its Costa Coffee and Premier Inns businesses. Barclays was up 1.7 per cent with investment banking unit had bounced back, enabling it to raise profits.

Lloyds nudged up by two per cent and RBS 1.3 per cent as the sector overall was given a lift.

In Europe the picture was more downbeat with Deutsche Bank reporting a drop in earnings. Spanish banking giant Santander saw its profit fall by 24 per cent after hefty property loans losses.

AstraZeneca was the biggest loser London in early trading, down four per cent, after the pharmaceutical giant revealed that its chief executive David Brennan is to step down on 1 June in an abrupt exit that follows rising investor discontent at the company's performance.

Chemical giant Croda edged down by two per cent despite reporting a profit rise.

Insurer Admiral was down just over one per cent and Aberdeen Asset Management 0.9 per cent.

On the FTSE All-share online retailer Asos reported a revenue climb of a third but investors remained unimpressed and the stock dropped by eight per cent.

The fall was attributed to tough comparatives with soaring growth last year. In Asia the Nikkei closed flat and the Hang Seng was up by 0.7 per cent.