WEDNESDAY MARKET CLOSE: Bargain hunters finally lift FTSE 100

The FTSE 100 index edged into positive territory for the first time in more than a week despite further gloom over the eurozone economy.

Figures from the 18-country region showed retail sales fell 1.6 per cent in December, offsetting a rise the previous month and exceeding the fall forecast by economists.

But the benchmark Footsie shrugged off the figures to finish 8.62 points higher at 6,457.89 as investors moved to pick up bargains in the wake of the recent sell-off.

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Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC, said: “The best performing sector has been pharmaceuticals after GlaxoSmithKline reported a rather mixed set of results, but it seems optimism about its pipeline has seen the shares get an upward jolt as they languish just above six month lows.”

Shares in the drugs giant lifted 2 per cent, or 25.5p, to 1,579.5p after it returned to revenue growth following two years of falling sales, albeit with a modest rise. AstraZeneca added 26p at 3,877p, and Shire was up 59p at 3,075p.

One of the biggest gains in the top flight came from RSA Insurance after the previous afternoon’s announcement that former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester had taken over as chief executive. RSA shares, which had gained 3 per cent after the announcement, were up a further 5 per cent or 4.6p at 103.6p.

Fund supermarket Hargreaves Lansdown was the biggest blue chip faller as an 11 per cent rise in half-year profits failed to meet City expectations. Shares were 152p lower at 1,345p, a fall of 10 per cent.

Outside the top flight, fashion chain French Connection shares rocketed by 19 per cent – up 7p to 43p – after it said robust Christmas trading was expected to lead to lower-than-feared annual losses.

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