Airline updates spark shares rise

Airline shares took off after a brace of carriers posted uplifting trading announcements as the wider market also posted gains following a key US jobs report.

The FTSE 100 Index lifted 22.7 points to 6671.9
The FTSE 100 Index lifted 22.7 points to 6671.9

Low-cost airline easyJet lifted 2% or 36p to 1827p as it revealed a 4.8% year-on-year hike in passengers last month, while Flybe was also up after reporting progress on its turnaround plans.

British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) also gained on the positive sentiment, as the FTSE 100 Index rose 46.4 points to 6695.6.

Markets were buoyed by American figures showing jobs in March grew slightly below expectations.

It meant the employment picture was not yet strong enough to spark a change in the US Federal Reserve's monetary policy, but nor was it so bad as to prompt fears over the strength of the recovery.

But while European markets cheered the update, with France's Cac 40 and Germany's Dax turning higher, Wall Street's response was muted with the overall tone of the jobs report being mixed as the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7%.

New York's Dow Jones Industrial Average saw early gains evaporate as it drifted into the red by the time of the close in London.

On currency markets, the pound held firm at 1.66 US dollars and 1.21 euros.

In London, airline stocks were gaining after the easyJet passenger update and Flybe reporting a 6% rise in passengers in its fourth quarter to March 31, after taking action to slash fares.

The regional carrier said it had also sold a fifth of seats for the summer season, up from 17% a year earlier. Shares rose 5%, or 7.2p, to 148.5p. IAG shared in the cheer, climbing 6.5p to 442.9p.

Tesco was a top-flight loser as finance director Laurie McIlwee confirmed that he was to step down ahead of the group's annual results in less than two weeks - and warned that it faced a period of "unprecedented change" in the supermarket industry.

Overnight reports had predicted that he was to quit following shareholder pressure and clashes with chief executive Philip Clarke over strategy.

The move piled further pressure on Mr Clarke as he battles to turn around flagging sales and profits at Britain's biggest grocer. Shares - already weighed down this week by a gloomy broker note - fell 1%, or 4.3p, to 287.4p.

Another blue chip finance chief move was also in focus after Royal Bank of Scotland hired Ewen Stevenson from Credit Suisse to take over from Nathan Bostock.

Shore Capital analysts said it "removes uncertainty around the position", and shares closed 1.4p higher at 318.3p.

High street stalwart Marks & Spencer was on the back foot ahead of what is expected to be another disappointing trading update next week.

Analysts are pencilling in a 1% drop in like-for-like sales in its general merchandise division, an 11th quarterly fall. Shares fell 9.7p to 461.9p.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were CRH, up 69p to 1775p, RSA Insurance up 3.2p to 94.2p, Anglo American up 48.5p to 1565p and Legal & General up 6.6p to 217.7p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were ARM Holdings, down 30p to 996p, Marks & Spencer down 9.7p to 461.9p, Barratt Developments down 6.6p to 409.9p and Tesco down 4.3p to 287.4p.