FTSE boosted by strong BSkyB result

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The FTSE 100 Index was up 8.7 points at 5977.8 by midday

BSkyB shares rose another 2% as strong half-year results heaped more pressure on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to seal a deal for the broadcaster.

With BSkyB posting a 26% rise in half-year operating profits to £520 million, shares rose 14.5p to 772p and are well above the 700p proposed by NewsCorp in the summer before it embarked on its quest for regulatory approval.

The wider FTSE 100 Index was up 8.7 points at 5977.8 despite seeing the Dow Jones Industrial Average fail to maintain its position above the 12,000 mark.

Asian markets were mixed as Japan reported accelerating export growth but expectations remained that China was gearing up for another interest rate hike to dampen economic growth.

Other risers in London included pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca, which added 50p to 3123.5p, after it reported a smaller-than-expected drop in fourth quarter profits of 5% to $2.7 billion (£1.7 billion).

The performance of key brands such as cholesterol product Crestor helped it weather testing conditions, while revenues from emerging markets grew to more than $5 billion (£3.1 billion), with China accounting for one-fifth.

It warned of a challenging few years for the industry, but Astra said it continued to plan for annual revenues in the range of $28 billion (£17.7 billion) and $34 billion (£21.5 billion) over the 2010 to 2014 period.

Next led the FTSE 100 fallers board as investors reacted to a worse-than-expected update from Sweden’s H&M after a fall in profits due to higher cotton prices. Next fell 2%, or 42p to 2043p, while Marks & Spencer dropped 2.9p to 363.1p and Primark owner Associated British Foods fell 8p to 1091p.

Outside the top flight, shares in pub companies were on the front foot after Harvester owner Mitchells & Butlers kicked off the sector’s reporting season with bumper sales figures for Christmas and New Year. Like-for-like sales jumped 6.7% in the key 12-day trading period and helped the All Bar One firm to overcome weather disruption in the early part of December.

There was a knock-on effect for other pub companies as Greene King, which is due to report figures on Monday, lifted 18.4p to 466.1p and Marston’s added 1.6p to 103.1p ahead of its own trading update on Friday.

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