FTSE posts slim gain after Budget

City A.M. Reporter
London's blue chip index posted a marginal gain on closing after a volatile session as strength in market heavyweight Vodafone countered weaker commodity stocks hit by below par US data which revived concerns over demand for metals.

The UK blue chip index closed up 0.54 points, or 0.01 per cent, at 5,891.95, surrendering a 0.3 per cent gain in the closing auction. The index fell 1.2 per cent.

Miners fell the most following weaker than expected US housing data that raised concerns about recovery in the world's biggest economy.

US blue chips were down 0.1 per cent by London's close.

Precious metal miners saw good support in London, with Fresnillo ahead three per cent and Randgold Resources up 3.2 per cent.

Goldman Sachs upgraded mobile operator Vodafone to its "conviction buy" list, lifting the market heavyweight 0.3 per cent.

Banks were higher as a sector after a volatile performance, but only buoyed by gains in global heavyweight HSBC, up 0.4 per cent, with domestic lenders weaker.

Part state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group shed 0.9 per cent and 0.4 percent respectively as the sector missed out on the benefits of a cut in British corporation tax in the UK 2012 Budget, delivered on Wednesday, with an increase in the bank levy designed to counter this boost for other businesses.

"An extraordinary manoeuvre when it's precisely them (the banks) who we need to rely on to help boost credit to business and individuals," said Simon Denham, CEO of Capital Spreads.

Aside from the disappointment for banks, British finance minister George Osborne's third budget speech failed to light much of a spark under the rest of the equity market.

"This budget felt much like reading a novel and then seeing the movie; there was no shock, no surprise and therefore nothing of substance to trigger significant price action in the financial markets," said Joshua Raymond, chief market strategist at City Index.

Housebuilders received a slight boost from the Budget, traders said, with the increase in UK growth forecasts for 2012 and a fairly upbeat economic assessment from Osborne giving the hard-pressed sector some relief.

Barratt Developments was a top FTSE 250 gainer, up 4.4 per cent, with Bovis Homes ahead 3.2 per cent.

Upmarket estate agents Savills shed 2.4 per cent, with traders citing the impact of moves in the Budget to impose a seven percent transaction tax on property sales over £2m with effect from midnight on Wednesday.

J Sainsbury was the biggest FTSE 100 gainer, up 4.5 per cent as Britain's third-biggest supermarket group beat sales forecasts and won market share from rivals.

Pumps manufacturer Weir Group was the top blue chip faller, marked down 6.2 per cent on a read-across from a profit warning by US oil services group Baker Hughes.

Ex-dividend factors knocked 3.1 points off the FTSE 100, with Aviva, InterContinental Hotels, Smiths Group and Standard Life all losing their payout attractions.