Markets: Broker updates give banks a boost

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Banks were on the front foot yesterday as brokers nudged up their target prices for state-backed duo Lloyds and RBS.

Shares in Lloyds added 3.5 per cent to 45.1p after UBS nudged up its target price by 2p, saying the lender was showing “solid progress”. Royal Bank of Scotland was up 1.6 per cent at 274.5p after Credit Suisse raised its target for the shares from 190p to 220p, although it kept its recommendation at “underperform”.

The FTSE 100 Index ended 2.4 points lower at 5,767.3 as 
political uncertainty regarding the US “fiscal cliff” and Greece’s latest pay-out from Europe ended hopes of a rebound from last week’s loses.

Michael Hewson, senior analyst at CMC Markets, said: “European markets have struggled for direction – not surprising given the backdrop of denial and delay in dealing with Greece’s financial situation.”

Security services firm G4S featured highly on the fallers’ board, down 4.7p to 248.7p, as it suffered more fallout from its failure to land the latest round of contracts to operate prisons in the UK. Fellow outsourcing firm Serco was also lower, down 3.5p to 551p.

Positive broker comment on its acquisition of a majority stake in India’s United Spirits was not enough to boost shares in drinks maker Diageo, despite Nomura edging its guidance on the shares higher. Scotland’s largest whisky distiller, which has now added control of Whyte & Mackay, gave up early gains to close 3p lower at 1,800p.

In the second tier, shares in Irn-Bru maker AG Barr were suffering following reports over the weekend that its proposed merger with rival Britvic had run into opposition from a large investor. The Scottish firm’s shares were down 5.6p at 432.3p.

NEW YORK: Wall Street was little changed in a lightly traded session last night, with investors limiting bets ahead of what could be a drawn-out battle over the “fiscal cliff.”

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 2.54 points, or 0.02 per cent, to close at 12,817.93 while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed up 0.19 point, or 0.01 per cent, at 1,380.04. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 0.62 point, or 0.02 per cent, to end the day at 2,904.25.