FRIDAY MARKET CLOSE: Pearson tops board at falling Footsie

Trading updates from publisher Pearson and bookmaker William Hill helped boost their faltering share prices and buck a fall in the wider FTSE 100 Index.

The pair made headway in an otherwise disappointing day for London’s top-flight, which fell 17.31 points to 6,685.69 following gains in the previous session.

Sentiment was hit by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as the West’s financial squeeze started to bite in Moscow. Russian debt has been downgraded by Standard & Poor’s on the back of two failed bond auctions, and there are fears Moscow will retaliate by reducing its gas supply to Europe.

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David Madden, market analyst at IG, said: “British stocks are holding up better than their European counterparts, who are paying the price for being heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.”

William Hill was 6.9p higher at 340p as it reported continued strong trading from its online business, leading to a 7 per cent rise in net revenues for the first 13 weeks of the year. FTSE 250 rival Ladbrokes was also up, climbing 2.3p to 138.7p.

Pearson, whose shares like William Hill’s have struggled in recent weeks, topped the FTSE 100 risers’ board climbing nearly 4 per cent or 40p to 1,090p after its latest update, coinciding with its annual general meeting, came in slightly better than City forecasts.

But AstraZeneca was 2 per cent lower as a week-long surge for shares in the drug-maker amid speculation that it is in the sights of US rival Pfizer came to an end. The stock slipped 95p to 4,080p as investors banked some healthy profits ahead of the weekend.

And HSBC led the banking sector lower after a broker downgrade from Morgan Stanley. Its shares were off 10.5p at 602.5p, while Barclays dipped 3.15p at 248.85p.