Market Report: Aviva tops Footsie on sell-off hopes

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The Independent Online

Apparently the bosses at Aviva have been trying to dampen down expectations ahead of Thursday's investor meeting. If so, punters were not in the mood to listen yesterday as they pushed the insurer to the top of the benchmark index.

The market is certainly eager to find out what chairman John McFarlane – who is in charge until a permanent replacement is found for former boss Andrew Moss – will say when he unveils the results of the company's strategic review.

With reports claiming Aviva may exit more than a quarter of its 58 businesses, the group shot up 10.1p to 282.7p.

Yet not everyone was getting carried away. Panmure Gordon's Barrie Cornes tried to be a voice of calm, with the analyst cautioning that, despite high expectations, he did not believe there would be "any ground-breaking announcements".

Many think its US division could be one of Aviva's parts to be shown the door. However, Mr Cornes cautioned against such a move, warning that he was "unconvinced … selling an asset into a market where we understand there are few if any buyers is a clever thing to do".

Still, he did try to calm the fears of those worried the company's dividend could be cut, pointing out that Mr McFarlane has played down the size of the cost savings.

The insurers were given a boost by Morgan Stanley's scribes upgrading their advice to "overweight" on the sector.

However, this didn't stop Admiral – whose share price has added nearly 15 per cent duringJune – taking the Footsie's wooden spoon by falling 23p to 1,169p.

The FTSE 100 continued to push up after last week's EU summit, advancing 69.49 points to 5,640.64, amid rising optimism that stimulus measures could be on their way.

In early trading, pharma group Shire was badly hit by the news that AstraZeneca had contributed $3.4bn (£2.2bn) to US peer Bristol-Myers Squibb's takeover of biotech firm Amylin. With Astra, up 29p to 2,882p, often suggested as a possible bidder for rumour mill favourite Shire, the fact it was splashing the cash elsewhere dampened such takeover hopes.

Vague speculation was also doing the rounds that, following the recent blow of a rival to its blockbuster drug Adderall XR being approved in the US, a generic version of Intuniv – another of Shire's ADHD products – could also be about to get tentative approval in the States. However, by the bell it had recovered to finish 9p higher at 1,841p.

Elsewhere, Barclays was lifted 5.55p to 168.4p, its first rise since the Libor scandal hit last week. At least the bank's embattled boss, Bob Diamond, has a friend in Ian Gordon – "Back Bob!" was the cry from the Investec analyst.

The prospect of an audience with Billie Jean King, pictured, was clearly not exciting too many as Smith & Nephew could only creep up 1.5p to 639p. The tennis legend has had two knee implants from the medical devices group, and is speaking at a seminar today – designed to tie-in with Wimbledon – about her experiences.

Down on the FTSE 250, there was no chance of the market giving Avocet Mining a break following Friday's profits warning. Then, the gold digger dropped 40 per cent and yesterday it slumped another 12.95p to 77.1p as brokers rushed to remove their "buy" advice.

Soco's decision to buy out Lizeroux Oil & Gas' 20 per cent stake in its Vietnamese unit was getting a standing ovation.

The oil explorer spurted up 20p to 309.4p as Numis' Sanjeev Bahl repeated his belief that its "concentrated Vietnamese resource base may be of interest to a strategic buyer", although he played down the likelihood of this in the short-term.

Meanwhile, Cable & Wireless Worldwide edged back 0.04p to 37.86p amid talk that its takeover by mobile phone giant Vodafone (0.15p stronger at 179.4p) could soon get the green light from EU regulators.

Halfords, meanwhile, was pegged back 5.4p to 223.8p as Panmure Gordon's Philip Dorgan removed his "buy" rating, saying the bicycles retailer would "be one of the losers from the Jubilee trading period and recent poor weather patterns."

Down on Aim, penny stocks Aminex and Solo Oil puffed up 0.28p to 4.55p and 0.04p to 0.52p after a positive independent evaluation of the explorers' gas projects in Tanzania.

FTSE 100 Risers

WPP 796p (up 23p, 2.98 per cent) Sir Martin Sorrell's advertising giant advances after announcing that it has agreed to buy the South Korean media planning and buying agency Alchemedia.

GlaxoSmithKline 1,472p (up 25p, 1.73 per cent) Pharmaceuticals giant rises following the news that it has settled a healthcare fraud case in the US by paying fines totalling $3bn.

FTSE 100 Fallers

Evraz 258.5p (down 2.2p, 0.84 per cent) Following a big rise at the end of last week, Roman Abramovich-backed steelmaker slides as Société Gé*érale cuts its target price to 253p from 378p.

Pearson 1,262p (down 4p, 0.32 per cent) Investors in publishing company decide it is time to bank some profits after watching its share price add more than 11 per cent last month.

FTSE 250 Risers

Imagination Technologies 496.6p (up 30p, 6.43 per cent) Although chip designer finishes the session near the summit of the mid-tier index, its share price has still lost more than 30 per cent since April.

Shanks 80p (up 3.65p, 4.78 per cent) Waste management company advances as it announces the appointment of Toby Woolrych as its new finance director, who will start the role near the end of August.

FTSE 250 Fallers

Ocado 75p (down 2.7p, 3.47 per cent) Still no let-up for the online grocer, whose share price has now dropped by almost a third since the release last week of its interim results.

Catlin 422p (down 3.5p, 0.82 per cent) Insurance group is knocked back by the scribblers at Jefferies announcing they have downgraded their recommendation to "hold" from "buy".