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FTSE hits pandemic high before festive rally fizzles out

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The limited number of traders who came into work for a half-day in London were set to be rewarded by a fourth straight day of gains ahead of Christmas but saw festive cheer fizzle out at the close.

The FTSE 100 ended the day up 1.24p, or 0.02%, lower at 7,372.1p despite gains by some of its travel companies as initial studies suggest Omicron might be less likely to put patients in hospital than previous Covid-19 strains.

London stocks are nonetheless higher for the week as sentiment took an uptick and remain near to their highest point since before the pandemic.

“With US, German, Italian and Swiss markets closed, the FTSE 100 opened with a small move to the upside amid much thinner than normal volumes as the festive week rounds up and on risk-on sentiment,” said Victoria Scholar, head of investment at Interactive Investor.

“It is better late than never for the Santa rally, which helped drive gains for US indices yesterday with the S&P 500 closing at a record high.”

Nevertheless, the rally lost steam as mining firms such as BHP and Antofagasta dropped during the quiet session.

The Cac 40 in Paris, one of the other global indexes that was trading on Friday, dropped by 0.17%.

Intercontinental Hotels, the firm behind Holiday Inn, was among risers on the FTSE as it rose by 1.17%.

British-Airways owner IAG also pushed towards the top of the index with a 1.86% increase and Premier Inn’s parent Whitbread rose by 1.21%.

On the FTSE 250 airlines EasyJet and Tui and coach operator National Express registered strong showings.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG, said: “European markets are making progress today, taking their lead from the better finish for US markets last night.

“After a wobble earlier in the month thanks to Omicron worries, indices on Wall Street made headway this week, recovering most of the losses, and this positive atmosphere has carried over to the shortened session in London.”

In currency markets one pound could buy 1.1839 euros, a nearly 0.2% decrease, while sterling rose by 0.1% to 1.3416 against the dollar.

In company news, Reckitt Benckiser announced that it had agreed to sell skincare brand E45 in a £200 million deal to Sweden’s Karo Pharma.

The business, which makes Dettol and Durex, said it would part ways with the firm which it has owned since 1952.

E45 was originally sold only to hospitals, but branched into consumer markets later in life. It brought in revenues of £43 million last year.

Shares rose by 5p to 6,274p at the close of play.

Engineering firm Babcock also announced a sale as M Group Services will pay £50 million for its power generation business.

Babcock said the move will help it streamline its operations. The unit counts National Grid and Scottish Power’s distribution arm among its customers.

Shares in Babcock finished 0.3p lower at 318.4p.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were B&M European Value, up 14.4p at 627.6p, Sage group, up 16.6p at 847.6p, IAG, up 2.68p at 146.64p, and Pershing Square, up 55p at 3,050p.

The biggest fallers of the day were Antofagasta, down 21p at 1,320p, ABF, down 29p at 1,990p, BHP, down 27.5p at 2,179p, and Flutter Entertainment, down 135p at 11.405p.

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