M&S and ITV brighten up dull day of trading for FTSE

THE UK&rsquo;s main market ticked down slightly yesterday, as an unexpected drop in US housing figures spooked investors and weakness in food retailers and tobacco firms outpaced gains in miners and energy companies.<br /><br />The FTSE100 closed 0.1 per cent lower at 5,342.13 with <strong>Cable &amp; Wireless, Unilever, Vodafone </strong>and<strong> HSBC</strong> going ex-dividend.<br /><br /><strong>Marks &amp; Spencer </strong>was the bright spot in the index, gaining 5.9 per cent to 390p after recruiting Wm Morrison chief executive Marc Bolland to the top job. In contrast, <strong>Wm Morrison</strong> lost 4.9 per cent. <strong>ITV</strong> also climbed after naming former Tory MP Archie Norman as non-executive chairman, the culmination of a fraught seven-month search.<br /><br />&ldquo;This should be received well by investors,&rdquo; said RBS analyst Paul Gooden. &ldquo;Archie has a good business track record.&rdquo;<br /><br />M&amp;S&rsquo; performance lifted general retailers, with <strong>Kingfisher</strong>, <strong>Home Retail </strong>and Next rising 0.2 to 1 per cent. <strong>Ladbrokes</strong>, the UK and Irish betting chain, rose 4.8 per cent to 133.1p after BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research upgraded it from &ldquo;underperform&rdquo; to &ldquo;buy&rdquo;, setting a new price target of 160p.<br /><br />Aerospace group <strong>Cobham</strong> likewise enjoyed a boost from analysts after Morgan Stanley began coverage of the company with an &ldquo;overweight&rdquo; rating and a price target of 300p.<br /><br />&ldquo;We believe its exposure to high-tech communications, surveillance, cyber warfare and intelligence positions it extremely well to the changing priorities of the US Department of Defense,&rdquo; the bank said.<br /><br />Weakness in the dollar underpinned a rise in metal prices, with gold jumping to a new high. Copper, lead, nickel and tin advanced on the London Metal Exchange.<br /><br /><strong>Fresnillo, Xstrata </strong>and <strong>Rio Tinto</strong> were all in the black with gains of between 2.4 and 4.9 per cent. <strong>Antofagasta</strong> added 1.9 per cent after announcing its mining arm was on track to meet a 2009 copper output target and improve earnings.<br /><br />Crude prices rose towards $80 a barrel, pushing up <strong>BG Group, Royal Dutch Shell </strong>and<strong> Tullow Oil </strong>by 0.1 to 1.2 per cent.<br /><br /><strong>Centrica</strong> bobbed up 6p in morning trading on reheated rumours of interest from Russian state energy giant Gazprom. City gossip, which has intermittently done the rounds for years, suggested the eastern European monolith was preparing a 400p per share bid, valuing Centrica at &pound;20bn. Although nothing materialised, the British firm ended 1.8 per cent up at 256.7p.<br /><br /><strong>Cadbury</strong> showed no sign of melting: its shares put on 1.2 per cent as Hershey and Italy&rsquo;s Ferrero put out statements confirming they were looking at the Dairy Milk maker.<br /><br />Tobacco stocks lost ground, meanwhile, with<strong> British American Tobacco</strong> and <strong>Imperial Tobacco</strong> losing 1.3 and 1.8 per cent respectively.<br /><br />Outsourcing group <strong>Capita</strong> took the wooden spoon for the day, shedding 5.2 per cent after the company said it won less new work in the ten months to the end of October year-on-year. Analysts also complained the company&rsquo;s valuation was looking stretched.