Market Report: C&W warning puts telecoms in spotlight

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The Independent Online

Not even news that the Bank of England is to pump another £25bn into the economy via its quantitative easing programme inspired much enthusiasm in the equity markets yesterday, with the majority of companies trading within a tight range.

Market watchers had always expected nervous trading ahead of a series of data expected from the US, including news on job numbers scheduled to be announced today.

Only Cable & Wireless stood out from the crowd – like a sore thumb – enduring a miserable day, falling 9.1p to 138.9p, a 6.2 per cent drop, after issuing a profits warning. The alert overshadowed long-awaited details on how the company will restructure.

The group blamed an altogether too relaxed Caribbean market for the earnings warning, saying that softer trading would lead to full-year profits coming in 4 per cent lower than previously estimated.

The FTSE 100 finished up 17.75 points at 5125.64, closing in positive territory for a second consecutive day. However, while the previous day's gains had been driven by a vibrant mining sector, which has benefited in recent weeks from renewed confidence over commodity prices, the diggers were notable by their inactivity yesterday.

BT was one of the biggest winners on the FTSE 100, no doubt benefiting from traders switching out of Cable & Wireless, and from clarity from the European Union over a planned legislation that will improve consumer rights in the telecoms sector.

Indeed, notwithstanding the group's 3.3p rise to 136.9p, the market has recently favoured the occasional bête noir of the index of leading shares, with the stock growing by nearly 50 per cent in the past six months alone.

Bad news for rats, perhaps, but Rentokil Initial, the pest control group, also scurried towards the top of the FTSE 100 leaderboard yesterday after the Financial Reporting Council, the watchdog that monitors the affairs of the big accountancy groups, said that the company's arrangement with KPMG met the spirit of its guidelines. There had been concerns that the deal may have blurred the post-Enron divide between external and internal audit services.

KPMG saved Rentokil £1m, or almost a third of its annual audit bill last year, by adding some internal audit work to its external audit in a process it called, "extended assurance services". Rentokil's shares put on 3.2p, closing up at 112p, yesterday.

Engineering consultancy Amec finished the day on top of the FTSE 100 pile, putting on 29.5p to close at 852.5p after a month that has seen the stock jump by 12 per cent. The company last month settled a £4.9m case with the Serious Fraud Office over "irregular payments" made on a project in South Korea. The group is also expected to issue a management update to the market next week.

Next maintained a presence on the FTSE 100 leaderboard for a second consecutive day after the latest in a series of impressive updates earlier this week. The retail group climbed 44p to 1956p, after jumping 102p on Wednesday, despite a Scrooge-like report from Deloitte yesterday saying that Christmas trading on the high street would be flat this Christmas, before tripping up on higher unemployment next year.

Next has been able to maintain its rating, however, no doubt aided by the analysts at Numis, who argue that, "we think Next is an ideal stock heading into an uncertain consumer environment".

Aside from Cable & Wireless, the race for the FTSE 100 wooden spoon included, not for the first time, Royal Bank of Scotland.

The stock slipped by another 1.26p to 35.2p, yesterday following a drop of 8 per cent over the last week. The bank, which is majority state-owned, has been hammered during the course of the week after European competition authorities ordered it to sell off more business units than it had expected in retrospective return for the billions of pounds it has received in state handouts.

Other household names were also among the laggards. British Airways lost altitude, sinking by 5.5p to 186.3p after Unite, the union that represents BA's cabin crew, launched legal action against the airline over plans to cut costs, which the union says will endanger passengers and crew. The situation was hardly helped by Fitch, the ratings agency, which published research saying that recent green shoots in the industry are likely to shrivel up and die in the short to medium term. "European airlines have been battling their way through the global recession, but their options are becoming more limited," said Sabrina Ran, an associate director in Fitch's EMEA corporates unit.

Trading away from top index continued in a similar fashion, with the FTSE 250 inching up by 27.65 points to 9020.4. ITV put on 4.27p after confirming that Lord Burns is its new chairman, while Forth Ports added 70p after a month of poor trading.

Rok, the small-cap property maintenance group, saw its shares jump by 3.5p, or 7.8 per cent, after the group forecast strong full-year results.