Weaker-than-expected economic data in the US caused markets on both sides of the Atlantic to struggle to make headway on Thursday.
Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average was ahead 0.1% after a report revealed a bigger-than-expected drop in durable-goods orders and a smaller-than-projected increase in consumer spending for November.
The FTSE 100 Index was eight points ahead at 5991.6, edging closer to the psychologically important 6000 mark – not reached since early June 2008.
But with trading volumes thin ahead of the Christmas holidays and little in the way of corporate or UK economic news, stocks struggled to push higher.
Investors were buoyed by reassurance from China that it is prepared to purchase Portuguese debt, reiterating their support for the eurozone and its currency. Barclays, which is heavily exposed to the Iberian peninsula, saw shares rise 1.2p at 268.7p.
Oil giant BP was among the blue chip stocks making gains in London, climbing 6.6p to 476.6p, after oil prices approached a two-year high, boosted by data showing a drop in US oil stocks ahead of an unexpected surge in global demand.
Retailers were also prominent on the risers board, with hopes high to mark the busiest shopping day in the UK as consumers scramble to make last-minute Christmas purchases. Marks & Spencer rose 3.4p to 376.4p, while B&Q parent Kingfisher added 4.1p to 262.2p and supermarket Sainsbury’s lifted 3.1p to 380.1p.
The retail sector has had a poor run recently as the severe weather has kept potential shoppers away from the high street.
The travel sector has felt the pinch of the cold weather as well, as traders were shaken by the impact that flight cancellations would have on the industry. But British Airways picked up, ahead 0.8p to 274.4p, and TUI Travel raced to the top of the risers’ board and added 6.7p to 248.2p.
Capita Group shares gained 4.6p to 709.6p after the outsourcing giant unveiled two takeover deals worth a combined £128.5 million as it ramps up acquisitions. In the second tier, National Express lost earlier gains and fell 0.5p to 244.5p, despite announcing it had won an extension to run its C2C London to Tilbury and Southend rail franchise for up to another two years.