FTSE 100 edges down ahead of long weekend
The FTSE 100 struggled for direction on Thursday as traders eyed up the long Easter weekend in a day of thin trading.
London’s top flight closed down 11.44 points, or 0.15%, at 7,459.88.
“It has been a quiet session,” David Madden, analyst at CMC Markets, noted.
In stocks, Unilever shares were in the ascendancy after the Marmite maker had rising sales driven by success in emerging markets during the first quarter.
The group reported a 1.6% decline in overall turnover to 12.4 billion euros (£10.74 billion) but on an underlying basis sales were up 3.1%.
Growth in Unilever’s continuing operations remained solid, particularly in emerging markets, where underlying sales were up 5%, led by South East Asia and Brazil and India.
Shares closed up 125.5p at 4,503.5p, propelling the firm to the top of the index.
Rentokil Initial also pushed higher after the rat catcher reiterated plans to spend millions on acquisitions this year.
It got a boost from buying sprees during the first quarter.
The group reported an 8.9% increase in ongoing revenue to £603.6 million.
Its growth was 4% organic and 4.9% came from acquisitions.
Shares closed up 6.8p at 374.9p.
Meanwhile, FTSE 250-listed Intu was trading higher as the under-pressure shopping centre operator sold a 50% stake in its Derby site to investment firm Cale Street for £186 million.
The Kuwait-backed retail investor will enter a joint venture with Intu for the site, which generated net rental income of £25.2 million last year.
The group, which also owns the Trafford Centre, has had a challenging year amid a retail crisis and failed merger talks but shares closed up 3.7p at 101.7p.
In currency, sterling was on the slide despite positive economic data.
Official figures showed consumers continued to ignore concerns about Brexit, sending retail sales surging in March.
Sales were up 1.1% on February, well above expectations of a fall of 0.3%, driven by food and non-store retailing, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
But the pound, weighed down by Brexit woes and a stronger dollar, shed 0.2% versus the US dollar to 1.300 at the London market close.
Against the euro, sterling was up 0.2% at 1.157.
Fiona Cincotta, of City Index, said: “Even as the UK was heading towards a no-deal Brexit in March, UK households were still spending at an impressive rate.
“This is good news for the UK economy, which is so dependent on the consumer.
“For the second time this week the pound as good as ignored the strong UK data, asides from a knee-jerk spike higher, sterling continued to trend lower, over-powered by the rallying dollar.”
In Europe, Germany’s DAX was up 0.57% and France’s CAC rose 0.25%.
A barrel of Brent crude was trading at 71.8 US dollars, an increase of 0.2%.
The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Unilever up 125.5p at 4,503.5p, CRH up 58p at 2,620p, Experian up 40p at 2,200p and Rentokil up 6.8p at 374.9p.
The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 were BAE Systems down 19.3p at 491.9p, Hikma Pharmaceuticals down 46.5p at 1,657.5p, Smith & Nephew down 28p at 1,444.5p and Astrazeneca down 99p at 5,815p.