OIL stocks helped the Footsie post gains on a day when weaker-than-expected German investor sentiment weighed on its Continental peers.
The FTSE 100 Index was up 33.53 points at 6,837.61, with traders appearing to anticipate some help from a generous Chancellor.
Jasper Lawler, market analyst at CMC, said: “Major UK-listed oil companies including Tullow Oil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP rose despite a drop in the price of Brent crude on the prospect of a tax-break in the UK Budget for North-Sea explorers.”
Beleaguered Tullow was up 17.2p at 298.4p, BP added 8.3p at 425.9p, and Shell gained 39.5p at 1,975p. Scottish Gas owner Centrica - which is also a major gas producer - added 5 per cent or 11.9p to 251.2p.
Although many miners were also on the front foot, Antofagasta declined after reporting a drop in annual profits in light of the steep fall in copper prices. It was the worst blue chip performer, down 20p at 687p.
The supermarket sector was in focus after Sainsbury’s published a trading update showing its sales fell on an underlying basis for the fifth quarter in a row.
Shares initially moved higher but fell back to close 2.2p off at 266.4p after it revealed a 1.9 per cent decline in like-for-like sales for the ten weeks to 14 March - even though it was feared this could have been worse. In May, the retailer is expected to post its first annual decline in profits in a decade.
Tesco shares were nearly 2 per cent lower - off 4.2p at 237.2p after rising sharply in the previous session - and Morrisons slipped by 4.5p to 201.3p as Sainsbury’s warned it expects another year of challenging trading conditions.
The supermarket sector, as a big minimum-wage employer, was not helped by the prospect of a rise in the official rate to £6.70 per hour.
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