Belfast Telegraph

FTSE 100 struggles for direction ahead of Easter break

London's blue chip index struggled to find direction on Thursday amid thin trading in the run-up to the Easter holidays.

The FTSE 100 ended the day down nearly 0.3% or 21.4 points at 7,327.59, having traded in the red for most of the session.

It came ahead of the long weekend, which will see stock markets closed for bank holidays on both Friday and Monday.

In currency markets, the pound was mixed, rising 0.2% against the euro to trade at 1.177 and falling 0.2% versus the US dollar to 1.251.

The US dollar was regaining steam after comments from US President Donald Trump - who said the currency was getting too strong - sent the greenback lower against a basket of currencies overnight.

Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at SpreadEx, said: " The dollar's Trump-inspired losses eased even further this afternoon, the currency boosted by some decent data out of the US.

"Now down just 0.2% against both the euro and the pound, the greenback was aided by a better-than-expected preliminary UoM consumer sentiment reading, which came in at 98.0 against the 97.1 forecast."

Across Europe, the French Cac 40 fell nearly 0.6% while the German Dax dropped 0.4%.

In oil markets, Brent crude rose 0.2% to 55.70 US dollars per barrel (£35.53), buoyed by comments from the International Energy Agency (IEA) which said the "market is already very close to balance" - raising hopes that the global glut is effectively being eroded.

In UK stocks, Royal Mail shares rose 4.9p to 424.1p despite facing the threat of industrial action after announcing plans to close its defined benefit pension scheme next year.

Royal Mail said the pension plan was currently in surplus but it expects this to run out in 2018.

J Sainsbury shares rose 0.5p to 258.4p amid news that the company has pushed ahead with plans to launch more Argos stores in its supermarkets.

It is part of integration plans between the two retailers following the grocery giant's £1.4 billion takeover of Argos and Habitat owner Home Retail Group last year.

Shares in Hays rose 2.1p to 170.3p after the recruitment firm unveiled record takings driven by an 18% leap in like-for-like growth across continental Europe and the rest of the world.

That is despite grappling with a slowdown in its UK and Ireland business.

Drax shares were flat at 317.4p after 33.35% of voting shareholders opposed the company's remuneration report, amid concerns over share awards for finance director Will Gardiner.

The director's remuneration policy, which outlines the framework for executive pay until 2020, also received 22.97% votes against.

HSS Hire shares fell 1p to 63p following news that its chief executive John Gill will be stepping down after leading the tool supplier for eight years, triggering the hunt for a successor.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Associated British Foods up 94p to 2,709p, Mediclinic International up 23p to 759.5p, Micro Focus International up 60p to 2,536p, and Sage Group up 13.5p to 663.5p.

The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 were Standard Life down 8.9p to 368.7p, HSBC down 11.4p to 643.9p, Standard Chartered down 11.9p to 709.5p, and Tesco down 2.9p to 181.5p.