WEDNESDAY MARKET CLOSE: Insurers advance but FTSE flounders

Insurance companies provided some relief to a struggling market after Admiral posted an impressive profits haul.

Shares in Admiral accelerated more than 7 per cent to 1,526p after it said profits rose 7 per cent to £370 million during a “solid but not flashy year”. Struggling rival RSA added 2 per cent to 97.8p.

Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG, said: “RSA has benefited from press speculation that the ‘sage of Omaha’ Warren Buffett is set to invest in the embattled firm, which is now under the stewardship of former RBS man Stephen Hester.”

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But shares in Legal & General were lower despite a 10 per cent jump in pre-tax profits. The shares dipped by 4.5p to 236p as chief executive Nigel Wilson warned over the potential impact on the global economy and financial markets as quantitative easing programmes are withdrawn.

With tensions in the Ukraine still simmering and China promising sweeping reforms to ensure sustainable growth in its slowing economy, the FTSE 100 Index slipped back 48.35 points to 6,775.42.

Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered fell 26.5p to 1,248p after it reported a 7 per cent fall in 2013 operating profits and said uncertain conditions in emerging markets meant its first-half performance was under pressure.

The biggest top flight fall of the session came from Melrose Industries, an investment company specialising in the turnaround of underperforming companies. It posted higher profits and raised its full-year dividend, but the results update prompted Investec to cut its target price on the stock.

Shares were 25.5p lower at 302.4p after Melrose also highlighted potential headwinds from the current strength of sterling.