THURSDAY MARKET CLOSE: Johnson Matthey leads sector gains as FTSE closes flat

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Speciality chemicals company Johnson Matthey was the biggest riser in the top flight after it posted a 12 per cent jump in half-year profits.

Shares were 4 per cent or 116p higher at 3,210p as Johnson increased its half-year dividend by 10 per cent and said trading had been better-than-expected.

Max Cohen, financial sales trader at Spreadex, said: “The speciality chemicals company reported a robust set of half-year results, powered by a strong performance in emission control technologies ahead of new European legislation and good demand for process technologies’ products.”

The wider chemicals and pharmaceutical sector took note, with AstraZeneca 92p higher at 3,400.5p and Shire adding 44p at 2,835p.

Worries over a relapse in the eurozone economy held back progress on the wider market, overshadowing more upbeat figures on Britain’s recovery. A bounce back on Wall Street helped the FTSE 100 Index inch into positive territory for the close - up 0.25 points at 6681.33.

The fallers board reflected the economic uncertainty in Europe and China, where the latest HSBC manufacturing survey disappointed. Commodity stocks bore the brunt, with Fresnillo sliding 41p at 863.5p and Vedanta Resources down 28p to 923p

Outside the top flight, shares in defence, security and aerospace company Qinetiq surged 7 per cent after it moved to offset fears about US defence cutbacks by maintaining its full-year guidance. The former Ministry of Defence research arm rose 14.3p to 211p.

Meanwhile, retailer French Connection endured a mixed session, even though the loss-making group signalled improved trading fortunes. Shares were 4 per cent higher at one stage but later retreated to close 1p lower at 39p.