Retailers lead FTSE into the red

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The FTSE 100 fell 19.2 points to 6000.9 at midday

Retailers have led the FTSE 100 Index into the red as investor nerves grew over the twin threat of rising prices and weak demand.

High street giants Next and Marks & Spencer were suffering the biggest falls, while the wider market also remained under pressure due to ongoing uncertainty in Egypt.

The Footsie fell 19.2 points to 6000.9, while futures trading suggested Wall Street was heading for a subdued opening as it also suffers from the instability in Egypt.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed lower overnight in the wake of figures from Cisco Systems and Credit Suisse that failed to meet expectations. Cadbury owner Kraft also lowered its forecasts for this year after US markets closed. Sentiment on world markets has been further impacted by the continued stand-off in Egypt as anti-government protesters keep up pressure for the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak.

In a quiet session for UK corporate news, the focus settled on retailers. Next and M&S fell 66p to 1997p and 8.3p to 363.3p respectively, followed by B&Q parent Kingfisher, which was down 4p to 249p. In the supermarket sector, Morrisons was the biggest faller with a drop of 2.4p to 275.6p. And drinks giant Diageo put back some of Thursday’s post-results fall with a rise of 17p to 1212p, while leisure group Whitbread continued its run of form by climbing 7p to 1844p.

Insurer Legal & General rose to the top of the Footsie risers board, adding 4.4p to 123.2p after a bullish note on the sector from Nomura, saying the market is underestimating the growth potential of L&G’s asset management operations. Other insurers Standard Life and Resolution also made gains, up 1.7p to 238.8p and 2.3p to 267.7p respectively.

Support services giant Carillion was 3.7p dearer at 388.9p after announcing the acquisition of green support services business Eaga for £306.5 million.

Meanwhile, shares in online grocer Ocado dropped 16% or 44.6p to 240.4p after the John Lewis pension trust sold its 10% stake for £152 million. The sale in recently-listed Ocado was made at a 7% discount to Thursday’s closing price.

Home emergency repair group Homeserve edged 4p higher to 455.3p as it said customer numbers rose in line with its expectations since September, up 2% in the UK as at the end of December.

Elsewhere, Flybe was 2% down after falling 5p to 305p as it said it flew 1.2% fewer passengers in its third quarter due to the snow disruption.

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