Footsie made an assault on the 5,000 level over the lunchtime session but fell short, as investors took note of expectations of a flat start on Wall Street.
With mergers and acquisition activity back on the agenda British Airways is in demand on hopes of a swift conclusion to its team-up with Spanish airline Iberia. Elsewhere in the sector travel firms Thomas Cook and TUI Travel are also enjoying a spell in the sun. In contrast, InterContinental Hotels gives back some of yesterday's gains.
Oil and gas explorer BG Group hailed 'excellent' test drilling results from its 30% owned Guara discovery in the Santos Basin off the coast of Brazil. The discovery is estimated to contain recoverable volumes of 1.1bn to 2.0bn barrels of oil equivalent.
Platinum specialist Lonmin has been enjoying some good gains lately, largely due to speculation of a bid from Xstrata, but the firm's shares are down 5% after Bank of America cut its rating on the group to 'neutral' from 'buy,' saying a bid is not inevitable.
Elsewhere in the mining sector gold miner Randgold runs into profit taking as the price of gold subsides below $1,000 an ounce.
Ex-dividend stocks are proving a drag with Diageo top among a list of FTSE 350 companies going ex today.
Sportswear retailer Sports Direct said trading levels since July have been ahead of last year and expects underlying operating profits for the current financial year will exceed £150m. Group revenue for the 13 weeks to 26 July 2009 rose 10% to £375m while gross profit improved to £157m from £150m.
London and south-east focused housebuilder based Berkeley reports the recent steadying in the housing market has continued with cancellation rates at normal levels and forward sales maintained above £600m in the first four months of its current financial year. Berkeley added it does not expect any land write-downs and had net cash in excess of £300m at 31 August.
Strong overseas growth helped contracts for difference specialist IG Group lift revenue by 28% in its first quarter to £68m from £53m. Excluding the impact of FXOnline Japan KK, organic revenue growth was 17%, IG added, while the charge for doubtful debts in the period was less than 1% of revenue. The shares are down, however, after going ex-dividend today.
Micro Focus shares slumped as Stephen Kelly, chief executive of the legacy software specialist, announced he is to step down for personal reasons. The firm said a search for a successor will commence immediately, adding that Kelly will work with the board and the broader management team to ensure a smooth and well managed transition of his responsibilities.
Shares in Pursuit Dynamics, which makes pump technology for brewing, food manufacturing and fire extinguishers, frothed higher after the firm announced a £4m placing to 'accelerate the commercial growth of the company.'
Wave energy technology company Ocean Power Technologies continues to experience choppy trading conditions, though first quarter losses have been trimmed. The company made a net loss in the three months to the end of July of $2.05m, versus a loss of $3.89m a year earlier.
Gold miner Central Rand Gold has become embroiled in a court case over its mining operations in South Africa. Puno Gold Investments, a 26% shareholder in Central Rand Gold's South African subsidiary CRGSA, is seeking to prohibit CRGSA from proceeding with mining operations at its Consolidated Main Reef, Langlaagte, City Deeps and Crown Mines tenements.
Womenswear and furniture retailer Laura Ashley posted a sharp drop in half year pre-tax profit, halved its dividend and said the outlook for retail remains uncertain. However the retail chain, known for floral patterns, said total group sales rose 6.3% to £127.8m for the six months to 1 August 2009. Pre-tax profit fell to £1.1m compared to £4.7m a year earlier.
Speciality pharmaceutical company Alliance Pharma has started paying dividends after interim profits almost tripled. Profit before tax in the first half of 2009 rose to £2.89m from £1.02m in the first half of 2008.
Underlying interim profits dipped slightly at restaurant chain Prezzo, but the group says the outcome was better than feared early on and it still expects a satisfactory year. Revenue for the 26 weeks to June rose 5.5% from £41.4m to £43.7m, with gross or restaurant profit in line with last year at £5.9m (2008 - £5.9m).
Lower diamond prices and cost-cutting measures to fight off the downturn helped jewellery retailer Signet post a rise in profits in the quarter to August 1.
Chocolate maker Thorntons served up a 4.5% decline in annual pre-tax profit but held its final dividend, underlining its confidence in future trading.
Chocolatier Thorntons returned to profit in the full year and said although consumer expenditure remains under pressure, it is confident further progress can be made as it extends its three-year turnaround plan. [11 Sep '13]
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