Defensive stance pushes FTSE higher

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Defensive stocks came to the fore yesterday helping to compensate for losses in the banking sector and pushing the market to yet another closing high.

The benchmark FTSE 100 index ended up 6.78 points or 0.1 per cent at 6,631.76, extending its winning streak to eight days.

It had fallen by as much as 0.3 per cent earlier on, but appetite for high-yielding defensive stocks and decent US economic data helped reverse losses.

Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets, said: “There was a high degree of pessimism over the [US retail] figures, but given the revisions higher in jobs data, I always thought we could see a positive surprise… and that got people a little bit more bullish on equities again.”

Defensive sectors such as consumer staples, utilities and health care stocks combined to bolster the Footsie, which has racked up a 12.4 per cent gain in the year to date.

BT was among the fallers, however, as investors banked profits from a 12 per cent price surge prior to the weekend, fuelled by better-than-expected results. It slipped 3.7p to 305.8p.

Lloyds Banking Group was 0.9p cheaper at 58.1p after it announced plans for the departure of chairman Sir Win Bischoff within the next year. He said the time was right to go after helping to steer the company into calmer waters since his appointment in September 2009.

In a disappointing session for the banking sector as a whole, Standard Chartered was 30.5p lower at 1,552.5p, Royal Bank of Scotland dropped 2.1p to 297.4p, Barclays eased 1.9p to 312.5p and HSBC fell 5.2p to 739.6p.

Internet delivery firm Ocado closed 14.6p lower at 210p amid concerns that Waitrose could block a possible partnership deal with Morrisons.

NEW YORK: Wall Street ended little changed last night as investors took a breather after indices hit more record highs last week, but stronger-than-expected US retail sales data kept declines in check.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 26.73 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 15,091.76 while thhe Standard & Poor’s 500 Index ended up 0.07 points, or 0.00 per cent, at 1,633.77. The Nasdaq Composite Index finished up 2.21 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 3,438.79.