Market Report: Happy Christmas sales at the grocers deliver gains for Ocado

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The Independent Online

As the supermarkets kicked off their Christmas reporting yesterday the expected sales bloodbath failed to materialise – leaving Ocado the big winner.

Shares in the online delivery specialist surged over 10 per cent on the back of strong numbers from Waitrose, Ocado's main partner. It follows news earlier this week that Morrisons has sold out its delivery slots for tomorrow's debut of its long-awaited online grocery service, powered by Ocado.

All of this looks good for the FTSE 250 firm, which delivers its Christmas trading results next week. Barclays is predicting sales growth of around 19 per cent. Shares jumped 53.9p to 513.5p.

Traders flip-flopped on Sainsbury's after the supermarket's third quarter update. Its shares initially rose more than 3 per cent following better-than-expected sales growth, but the stock swiftly retreated, down 8.9p to 360p, as investors digested the update.

The state-back lenders were riding high on the benchmark index amid chatter of progress on the Government's sell-off of Lloyds. The bank's management has been asked by UK Financial Investments, which looks after the taxpayer's 33 per cent share in Lloyds, to draw up a prospectus for potential buyers, signalling a further divestment may be on the near horizon. A 6 per cent stake has already been sold. Lloyds added 1.29p to 83.8p.

Taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland was also a big mover after positive results from Saudi Arabia's oldest lender. Saudi Hollandi Bank, partly owned by RBS, announced a 10.8 per cent jump in fourth quarter profits, sending RBS climbing 7.5p to 357.9p, Barclays also made gains, up 2.75p to 283.62p, after JPMorgan added it to its "top picks" list.

The insurer RSA was on top of the benchmark index after it confirmed that its balance sheet troubles were isolated to Ireland. RSA said the £200m capital black hole at the group's Irish operations was an isolated incident and said it doesn't expect to take any further write downs. Its shares added 2.95p to 100.7p.

Despite these gains, utilities dragged the topflight index down 33.67 points to 6721.78.