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Market Report: Miners prove to be a copper-bottomed play

For the second day in row, it was the miners who set the pace on the FTSE 100 leaderboard yesterday, with copper producers in particular vogue with traders.

Both Kazakhmys and Antofagasta rose to the top of the index of leading stocks after a spike in the price of the commodity, with the shares in the two companies rising by 72p to 1,106p and from 45p to 981p, respectively.

Three-month copper prices on the London Metal Exchange rose by as much as 0.8 per cent to $6,695.50 per tonne yesterday, as arbitrage traders tried to profit by buying copper in London and selling it in Shanghai, exploiting a gap in prices.

After dents in support for miners in recent weeks, caused by unease across Asia and slower growth in China (albeit still in double digits), a number of analysts have sought to assure clients that the Chinese powerhouse remains structurally short of a number of commodities, bolstering the miners.

Apart from the diggers, there was more bonhomie on the FTSE 100 as the market traded up, eventually closing the day 75.18 points higher at 5,214.64. However, the financial spread-betting house, Capital Spreads, said the day had started in better shape. It said: "The FTSE 100 is opening far higher at 5,220, up more than 80 points, as the 'swingometer' moves back towards greed from fear.

"Every few sessions these days just seem to be the opposite of the previous few, and the contra-traders among our clients are having something of a field day. Resistance remains at 5,250 and then 5,300/5,310 as it was last week and support at 5,150 and 5,110/5,120 as before as well."

Kazakhmys and Antofagasta were by no means the only miners competing for medals on the index of leading shares. Xstrata, another major copper producer, was up 38.8p to 990.7p. The shares were helped by striking port workers going back to work in South Africa, where they have prevented coal, another of Xstrata's main commodities, from being exported.

Meanwhile, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, another miner working in Kazakhstan, was able to piggyback on Kazakhmys's rise. It was no doubt helped by the fact that the yellow jersey holder has a 26 per cent stake in ENRC, whose stock closed the day 27p higher at 890.5p.

The major mining groups by no means dominated the top 10, though. The world's biggest hedge fund, Man Group, spent most of the day on the heels of the resources companies and closed 6.4p higher at 215.2p.

The stock climbed by as much as 5.2 per cent at one stage, with traders renewing interest in the company after last week's rumours of a bid. They believe the shares are undervalued, with one saying yesterday that an approach was still likely.

British Airways was full of swagger on Tuesday when it claimed that Unite, the union representing disgruntled cabin crew, had lost its "moral authority" to do so after fewer staff than expected voted to reject BA's latest pay offer.

BA showed more ebullience yesterday after it was given the green light by the US Department of Transportation for its three-way merger with American Airlines and the Spanish carrier Iberia. Traders reacted favourably to the news, sending the stock up 10.7p to 210.1p.

Despite the FTSE 100 finishing the day in positive territory, there had to be losers, and prominent among the laggards was the medical devices group Smith & Nephew, whose shares traded down 26.5p to 560.5p.

The plunge followed rumours around the market that Citigroup was working on a deal to place eight million shares for Smith & Nephew at 559p apiece. The stock was also pressured by a negative read-across from its US peer Stryker's results, which saw only sluggish sales of hip and knee devices.

Many in the City are expecting great things from Capita in the coming months as the Government looks to make colossal public spending cuts, partly by outsourcing more services. Nevertheless, Capita looked a loser yesterday and slipped into the bottom 10 as its shares slid by 8p to 710p. The downward trend followed a slippage in form from the company, which has lost more than 10 per cent of its value in the past three months, despite expectations that it will benefit from the coalition's austerity drive.

The condom-maker and footcare outfit SSL International easily outshone its peers in the FTSE 250 after it recommended a £2.5bn takeover offer from the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser. Putting on 295p to close the session at 1,177p, SSL was way ahead of everyone else on the FTSE 250, which closed 154.98p higher at 9,846.3. Reckitt Benckiser, for its part, gained 110p to close at 3,300p.

Another winner was the media group Informa, which rose 20.6p to 373.4p after analysts at Investec highlighted the company's first-half results, due next week, and said the value of the shares was "compelling".

Conversely, it was the analysts who did for the currency printer De La Rue. Panmure Gordon downgraded the stock to "sell" following the company's announcement on Tuesday that it expected "sales to be materially lower in the 12 months to March 2011".

The downgrade promptly sent the shares tumbling by 23.5p to 753p.