FTSE sticks above 6,000 after volatile day

The FTSE’s mainstay miners and banks pushed the benchmark index to close just above 6,000 points – but profit taking and uncertainty over violent clashes in Egypt caused a turbulent day’s trading.

The FTSE 100 closed up 42.25 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 6000.07, extending Tuesday’s 1.6 per cent rise.

The index has recovered from a sharp dip at the beginning of the week as the focus has shifted from the political troubles in the Middle East to the health of the global economic recovery.

Platinum miner Lonmin led the miners on the risers board, to close up 4.06 per cent at 768p, followed by Eurasian Natural Resources (up 3.76 per cent to 1,076p); 
Rio Tinto (also up 3.76 per cent, to finish at 4,507.5p); BHP Billiton (up 3.44 per cent to close at 2,513.5p); Anglo American (up 3.36 per cent to 3,273.5p); Fresnillo (up 3.25 per cent to 1,429p); and Antofagasta (up 2.51 per cent to 1,509p).

“Initial gains looked in danger of evaporating as violent clashes erupted in the Egyptian capital of Cairo,” said IG Index sales trader Will Hedden.

“However, rising commodity prices have helped to keep the index in positive territory, with miners unsurprisingly benefiting the most.”

Other winners were Imperial Tobacco, which added 5.9 per cent during the course of the day after surprising investors with a return to volume growth and sales up 1.2 per cent, in the last quarter of 2010.

The banking sector also gained ground after encouraging progress in the Eurozone and significantly improved fourth-quarter results from Spanish bank BBVA.

“This has helped buoy the European banking sector with HSBC and Standard Chartered the major gainers. Barclays, who have some exposure to Spain and Portugal is also higher,” said Michael Hewson, market analyst at CMC Markets.

Defensive stocks such as International Power, down 3.43 per cent to 405p and National Grid, down 2.05 per cent to 548.5p, fell most.

National Grid lost ground after as Investec kept its "sell" rating on the utility, saying Ofgem's seminar yesterday highlighted the regulatory uncertainty facing the industry.

Drugmaker AstraZeneca fell 2.77 per cent to 2,947.5p, after going ex-dividend.

“Pharmaceuticals have proved to be a drag, with AstraZeneca near the bottom of the index, while Johnson Matthey has also slipped back despite reporting better-than-expected third-quarter profits,” said Hewson.

And engineer GKN dropped 4.91 per cent to close at 193.8p after Credit Suisse suggested its profit margin was at risk from rising commodity prices.

US stocks weakened after yesterday’s rally in which indices closed at two-and-a-half-year highs.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 7.76 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 12,047.92. The S&P 500 dropped 2.33 points, or 0.18 per cent, to 1,305.26; and the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 2.03 points, or 0.07 per cent, to 2,753.22.