Market Report: Snow worries fail to push pub groups out in the cold

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The Independent Online

The pub groups made merry yesterday, shrugging off worries about the effects of further bad weather on the key Christmas trading period.

Share prices were ahead, despite a downbeat note from Citi titled "Snow woes", which examined just how much trading could be damaged.

The broker estimated that for pubs and restaurants the two weeks either side of Christmas "typically see sales [of around] 30 per cent above the average week". It also cautioned that "further widespread disruption over the next 10 days could cause consensus forecasts to fall 2-4 per cent".

However, its analysts did say that the "impact on trading up to [17 December] was modest", and investors seemed prepared to ignore the dangers of the snow, at least for now. As a result, Marston's advanced 2.5p to 112.3p while Punch Taverns and Mitchells & Butlers were up 0.8p to 75p and 3.6p to 351p respectively.

Overall, the FTSE 100 came tantalisingly close to the 6,000 mark, finishing 12.58 points stronger on 5,996.07, as the last full day of trading before Christmas saw unsurprisingly low volumes. BP was certainly doing its part to bring festive cheer to the blue-chip index, gaining 6.65p to close on 476.65p following a rise in oil prices.

Many of the retailers regained at least some of their heavy losses caused by the snow, on what was predicted to be the biggest shopping day of the year. Next added 36p to 2,007p, while on the mid-tier index Debenhams put on 1.45p to 71.6. Even SuperGroup, which was renamed "SuperDroop" by Arden Partners' Nick Bubb after its recent plummet, managed to edge up 3p to 1,235p.

With both London City and Gatwick airports returning to normal service, and Heathrow close to operating a full schedule, the improved conditions for travellers contributed to TUI Travel topping the blue-chip index after surging forwards 6p to 247.5p.

AstraZeneca suffered another hit, as – for the third time in a week – it announced disappointing news regarding one of its drugs. The company is abandoning its heart product Certriad, which was a joint project with Abbott Laboratories.

On Tuesday the group said it had halted development on its lung disease drug Motavizumab, while last Friday the US Food and Drug Administration unexpectedly failed to approve the blood-thinning product Brilinta. Yet despite the latest knock, the group still managed to climb 19p to 2,974p, claiming that earnings per share for this year and 2011 would not be harmed.

Rio Tinto was left near the foot of the top-tier index after the confirmation of speculation that it had improved its offer for the coal miner Riversdale. The new bid, which the Australian group has agreed to, is worth around £2.54bn, and Rio shed 44.5p to 4,535p as a result.

On the FTSE 250, Heritage Oil ended near the top, shifting up 13.2p to 447.1p, as market gossips returned to rumours that it may be a takeover target. Details were scarce, however, with an unnamed group supposedly mulling over a potential bid of 600p-a-share. Similar speculation did the rounds earlier in the month, when a number of companies were linked with Heritage.

Despite disappointing mortgage data from the British Bankers' Association that revealed approvals in November sank to a 20-month low, the housebuilders still managed to move up. Taylor Wimpey jumped 1.44p to 31.11p, while Barratt Developments and Berkeley were bumped forwards 2.1p to 89.95p and 11p to 913.5p respectively.

National Express enjoyed a good session after the transport company was given two more years of running the C2C train franchise between London and Essex, a deal which was due to expire next year. The news was welcomed by Peel Hunt, which said it "marks a continuing thaw in relations with the Government, and suggests that it may be realistic to see [the group] with a serious future in UK rail".

Reiterating its "hold" recommendation, the broker described National Express's shares as "good value, particularly as we now expect the dividend to be reinstated at the final results in February", and it made a small move forward of 1.1p to 246.1p.

Afren was down 2p on 142.3p following a setback in its Ebok field in Nigeria. The oil and gas group was supposed to see the first production there by the end of 2010, but this has now been pushed back to February.

However, Afren did say that it now expected the field to produce more oil, and its house broker Bank of America Merrill Lynch commented that the "increased deliverability... is a clear positive that should more than offset any impact from the delay".

Among the stocks on Aim, Beowulf Mining rocketed 3.75p to 28.25p after it said that its Kallak deposits in Sweden contain more than 600m tonnes of iron ore. Meanwhile, Shaft Sinkers, which creates mining shafts, moved from its initial price of 124p to 134p on its first day of trading on Aim.