Market Report: Christmas shot in the arm after a year of turbulence


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The Independent Online

As "Santa rallies" go, this year's has hardly been much to write home – or even to the North Pole – about.

Yet the Square Mile managed to enjoy some festive cheer yesterday in the last trading action before Christmas as the Footsie rose strongly for the second straight day in a row.

Traditionally the FTSE 100 has enjoyed December, having risen nearly 7 per cent during the month last year and more than 4 per cent in 2009. At one point, however, it looked as if this year would be rather different especially after it slumped more than 200 points in only six sessions earlier in the month.

Yet, when the bell rang at lunchtime yesterday at the end of a half-day trading session, the benchmark index was 55.73 points better off at 5,512.7, meaning that – with its having gained more than 65 points on Thursday – it is now back in positive territory for December.

Volumes were light, unsurprisingly but those who did make it into the City were still enjoying a boost from the generally positive economic data that came out of the US in the week, and the lack of any news regarding the eurozone was also being welcomed.

"No one wants to think about the unresolved problems in Europe, and who can really blame them?", asked IG Index's Chris Beauchamp.

"Everyone knows that the debt crisis will still be there for them when they struggle back to work bleary-eyed on Wednesday morning."

A number of the commodity stocks managed to rise, including BP. The oil giant shot up 9.4p to 459.7p after revealing its non-executive director Brendan Nelson had bought more than 11,000 shares at 449p a pop.

There was clearly an air of caution, as shown by the defensive companies being in vogue – Severn Trent advanced 27p to 1,481p, and the brewers SAB Miller and Diageo frothed up 48.5p to 2,238p and 20p to 1,378p respectively.

Shire, meanwhile, was bumped up 21p to 2,188p as the drugs maker stayed on course to end the year as the top performing blue-chip stock, having added more than 40 per cent this year.

It has been a strong 12 months for the pharmaceuticals companies in general, and Merchant Securities' Navid Malik pointed out that on the Stoxx 600 index of European countries, the healthcare sector has been by far the best performer.

There were some encouraging comments for the banks regarding Sir John Vickers'recommendations, which include calls for the sector to ringfence their retail operations. The groups had been knocked by the Government's recent approval of the findings, but Goldman Sachs claimed that on closer examination things weren't as bad as they first looked.

Arguing that the Government's response was actually a "moderate watering down of [the] proposed reforms", the broker's analysts said that as a result they had cut their forecasts for what costs the banks will face from the reforms.

They also reiterated their "conviction buy" advice on HSBC, which crept up 1.5p to 490.05p.

Barclays, however, was even higher, moving ahead 2.9p to 179p despite the analysts saying they still believed it would be the worst hit by the reforms.

Having added more than 10 per cent on Thursday, Carpetright was left near the foot of the FTSE 250, slipping 18p to 490p. It was hit by cautious comments from its AIM-listed rival United Carpets, which was pegged back 0.25p to 5.75p after it released interim results.

The team at Perform have clearly been busy The digital sports rights firm signed a deal with the Women's Tennis Association earlier in the week, and yesterday it announced it had acquired a number of German businesses which it said would boost earnings next year, although the company retreated 5p to 205p nonetheless.

Galliford Try was lifted 9.5p to 463p as, for the first time , Panmure Gordon's Mark Hughes picked it as his top sector tip for the year ahead for the second time in a row. The group managed to rise more than 50 per cent over 2011, and Mr Hughes was hopeful for the same again, saying it would be boosted by growing demand in the South of England.

With its management saying that although sale discussions were ongoing, any potential bidder was unlikely to make an offer for its shares, tents and sleeping bags retailer Blacks Leisure slumped 57.14 per cent to 0.75p.

Also struggling on the fledgling index was SkyePharma, which shifted down 15.92 per cent to 33p as it was told it could have wait up to another nine months to discover whether its asthma therapy Flutiform will get approval after the decision was referred to the European Drugs Agency.

FTSE 100 Risers

CRH 1,253p (up 27p, 2.2 per cent)

Irish building materials firm completes a positive first week as a blue-chip stock, having gained more than 8 per cent since gaining entry to the benchmark index.

Vodafone 176.3p (up 2.75p, 1.59 per cent)

Mobile giant rises as Bharti Airtel, one of its rivals in India, attacks the Indian government's stance against sharing 3G airwaves in the country as "arbitrary".

FTSE 100 Fallers

Lloyds Banking Group 25.69p (down 0.16p, 0.62 per cent)

Bank ends up with the wooden spoon, bringing an end to its three-day winning streak over which time it managed to rise more than 10 per cent.

Old Mutual 135.3p (down 0.3p, 0.22 per cent)

Insurance company finishes up as one of only nine blue-chip stocks in the red, coming after its strong recent gains in the wake of a number of disposals

FTSE 250 Risers

SuperGroup 531p (up 29p, 5.78 per cent)

Fashion clothing retailer given a boost by some last-minute shopping from investors, although its share price has still dropped more than 50 per cent since September.

London & Stamford 108.8p (up 3.9p, 3.72 per cent)

Property investor finishes high up the mid-tier index's leaderboard after agreeing a disposal of assets which Blackstone will pay £265m for.

FTSE 250 Fallers

Ocado 56.75p (down 2.25p, 3.81 per cent)

Online grocer closes as the worst performing stock on the FTSE 250, after having seen its share price jump almost 12 per cent during trading on Thursday.

Home Retail 82.8p (down 0.7p, 0.84 per cent)

Argos-owner retreats after a strong advance earlier in the week, which was partly thanks to the revival yet again of vague takeover speculation.