Market Report: Cross-Channel news makes waves for WPP

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The Independent Online

There was a definite Gallic influence on the blue-chip index last night, as news from two Paris-based companies prompted moves in both directions.

WPP found itself high up the leaderboard thanks to a read-across from its rival Publicis, whose clients include the British Army and Renault.

The French group announced expectation-beating numbers for 2010, revealing a 20 per cent increase in sales and a rise in its operating profit of almost a third.

It was also making bullish noises over the outlook for the advertising sector, with its chief executive, Maurice Levy, saying the results "have put an end to the impact of the global financial crisis" on the group.

All this positivity was enough to lift WPP 12p up to 824p, meaning that since the start of December it has gained more than 15 per cent, leaving it trading at a level not seen since May 2001.

Figures from across the Channel did not prove so kind for International Consolidated Airlines (IAG). The group, which resulted from the recent merger between British Airways and Iberia, has had a torrid time since it began trading near the end of January, falling more than 10 per cent.

Yesterday it was left close to the foot of the top-tier index after sliding 8.6p to 251p, prompted by a warning from Air France-KLM that it would not meet its previous profit forecasts.

Despite the European airline blaming "numerous one-off events", including strikes and extreme weather, IAG still dropped along with a number of its peers, including easyJet, which was driven back 8.6p to 380.5p. Not helping matters was Investec, whose analysts said that the "recent increase in jet fuel prices has more than offset [IAG's] synergy gains".

The Bank of England's decision to keep the interest rates level has prompted little movement, and weakness among the miners saw the FTSE 100 slip back 32.28 points to 6,020.01. Rio Tinto retreated 110p to 4,549p following its full-year results after revealing a share buyback programme worth $5bn (£3.1bn), less than had been hoped.

In the wake of Hewlett-Packard's announcement late on Wednesday that it will soon use an operating system other than Microsoft's Windows in its PCs, some were expecting Arm Holdings to gain as a result.

The news means Arm's technology could end up being used in HP's PCs, and Royal Bank of Scotland's Didier Scemama described it as a potential "major milestone". Yet this did not prevent the Cambridge-based company shedding 7p to close at 595p – perhaps not too surprising given its meteoric rise in recent months.

Diageo was left drowning its sorrows at the bottom of the index, falling 7p to 595p after the drinks company failed to meet earnings forecasts with its first-half results. The group, whose tipples include Guinness and Smirnoff vodka, was particularly badly hit in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Sales dropped 13 per cent across those countries, with drinkers clearly in no mood for celebrating thanks to their countries' sovereign debt woes.

There was no comment from Smith & Nephew on the takeover rumours that have pushed the replacement knee and hip manufacturer up recently, but its final results still saw the group reach another all-time high.

With its trading profit managing to increase by nearly 10 per cent, the company climbed 15p to 727p despite the announcement that its chief executive, David Illingworth, will be retiring in April for "personal" reasons.

A late flurry of support saw Northumbrian Water jump up 3.3p to 314.1p on the FTSE 250, as bid rumours around the utility group surfaced again.

The gossip was that it could soon be the target of a takeover attempt, with vague speculation that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan – its largest shareholder, which has often been linked with such talk – could either make an approach itself or sell its stake to someone who will.

Elsewhere, Dairy Crest rose 5.2p to 380p as its potential as a takeover candidate was talked up. The company, which produces Cathedral City cheese and Clover spread, is a "credible bid target" according to Evolution Securities, which said the German group Theo Müller was a potential bidder.

The best performer on the second line was Hargreaves Lansdown, which rose 23.5p to 570p in the wake of its interim results.

Mondi was also going strong, moving up 14p to 526p as investors reacted well to its final results.

There was a large fall for Aberdeen Asset Management, however, after Numis Securities downgraded its recommendation to "reduce", prompting a drop of 12.3p to 215.9p.

On the Alternative Investment Market, Blacks Leisure – the owner of the Blacks and Millets retail chains – climbed 1p to 25.25p following the resignation of its chief executive, Neil Gillis.

Meanwhile, SocialGO managed to place more than 45 million new shares at 2.95p a pop, raising more than £1.3m for the social network group. It closed 0.2p lower at 3.08p.

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