FTSE 100 breaks losing streak

The UK's top share index edged into positive territory for the first time in more than a week today despite further gloom over the eurozone economy.

The FTSE 100 Index followed the lead of US and Asian markets to stand 24.6 points higher at 6473.8.
The FTSE 100 Index followed the lead of US and Asian markets to stand 24.6 points higher at 6473.8.

Figures from the 18 country region showed retail sales fell 1.6% in December, offsetting a rise the previous month and exceeding the 0.5% fall forecast by economists. It also represented the biggest monthly decline since May 2011.

But the FTSE 100 Index shrugged off the figures to finish 8.6 points higher at 6457.9 as investors moved to pick up bargains in the wake of the recent sell-off.

Further gains were held back after a lacklustre start to trading on America's Dow Jones Industrial Average, which failed to maintain the rebound seen in the previous session.

The mood in London was helped by more encouragement from the dominant services sector following another strong reading in the Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index.

While the score of 58.3 represented the third month in a row of slowing growth, the performance was still well above the long-run trend.

The pound failed to receive a boost, remaining largely flat at 1.63 US dollars and 1.21 euros.

One of the biggest gains in the top flight came from RSA Insurance after the previous night's announcement that former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester has taken over as chief executive.

Mr Hester, who left RBS in September after five years at the helm, has been tasked with leading another recovery as RSA looks to move on from the Irish accounting scandal that led to the resignation of former boss Simon Lee.

RSA shares finished 3% higher after Tuesday's announcement and were up by another 5% or 4.6p to 103.6p in trading today.

Chip designer ARM Holdings rose 17.5p to 892.5p as investors returned to the company in the wake of a sharp sell-off yesterday after its warning of slower demand for high-end smartphones.

Fund supermarket Hargreaves Lansdown topped the FTSE 100 Index fallers board despite results showing an 11% rise in half-year profits to £104.1 million, a performance boosted by demand following the Royal Mail flotation.

The figure missed City expectations as Hargreaves said lower interest rates on cash holdings caused profits growth to lag behind a 43% hike in funds under management.

Shares were 152p lower at 1345p, a fall of 10%.

GlaxoSmithKline shares lifted 2% or 25.5p to 1579.5p after it returned to revenue growth following two years of falling sales, albeit with a modest 1% rise.

Elsewhere, fashion chain French Connection shares rocketed by 19% - up 7p to 43p - after it said robust Christmas trading was expected to lead to lower-than-feared annual losses of around £4.7 million, down from £7.2 million the year before.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Tullow Oil up 56p to 849.5p, RSA Insurance ahead 4.6p at 103.6p, Associated British Foods 121p stronger at 2883p and William Hill 9.2p higher at 343.9p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Hargreaves Landsown off 152p at 1345p, Tate & Lyle down 17p at 755.5p, Sage 7.6p weaker at 407.2p and Imperial Tobacco 38p lower at 2189p.