Market overview: Tough times for retailers

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LONDON (ShareCast) - 1130: Things are looking tough for retailers at the moment, with business recovery group Begbies Traynor warning that an increasing number of both national and regional retail chains are heading for insolvency following a difficult year of trading. The group's research shows that 13,700 retailers suffered significant financial distress between the start of October and mid-December, marking an increase of 35%. In its UK business solvency survey, Begbies said that 140 of these are in a "critical condition". The FTSE 100 is up 7 points at 5,947.

1030: The FTSE has continued to deliver modest gains this morning, with trading volumes predictably thin. In economic news, it has been predicted that the national average house price is set to drop one per cent in the coming year. According to Hometrack, families facing financial woes will become increasingly reluctant to add to their debt levels and this will in turn affect house sales. Hometrack's monthly data report has revealed that property prices dropped 0.1% in December compared to November (Xetra: A0Z24E - news) , its sixth decline in a row. Over the year prices are down 0.3%. The FTSE rose nine points to 5,949.

0930: The FTSE 100 has pushed slightly higher, led by ITV (see previous update for details) and several of the big mining groups. Any gains are expected to be short-lived, however, as concerns over the US prevail after lawmakers voiced concern that the country would fall off the 'fiscal cliff' in nine days. The US is yet to reach a budget deal that would prevent considerable spending cuts and tax hikes and leaders have fuelled fears that they won't meet the January 1st deadline amid news President Obama and opposition leader John Boehner are not talking and are out of town for the Christmas holidays. The FTSE is up 10 points at 5,950.

0820: The FTSE 100 has edged marginally higher in opening trading as the majority of investors head for their holidays. With no UK economic announcements expected this week and minimal company updates out on what is a half day of trading today, volumes are expected to be light. ITV (LSE: ITV.L - news) has agreed to acquire a controlling stake in Gurney Productions, an independent producer of US cable television networks. The UK TV network is purchasing a 61.5% stake in Gurney Productions for $40m, with a put and call option to buy the remaining 38.5% interest in the company. The FTSE is one point higher at 5,941.