Utilities and insurers weigh on FTSE

The FTSE 100 was threatening to tip into the red as weakness in utilities and insurers started to offset gains in consumer and retail stocks.

The blue-chip index was flat at 7,651.

British fashion retailer Next (NXT) surprised the market with a hike in its full year profit forecast on Wednesday after it beat expectations for sales in the run-up to Christmas. Investors are excited by the news as the shares rallied 7.6% to £48.36.

National Grid (NG.) was down 1.2% at 851p and United Utilities (UU.) dimmed 1.1% to 807.2p.

Among the insurers, Admiral (ADM) fell 1.2% and RSA (RSA) ticked 1.2% lower.

UK construction output continued to ease in December as less work on commercial projects and stagnating civil engineering offset more residential building according to IHS Markit. The Purchasing Managers' Index in December was 52.2, down from 53.1 in November.

Brent crude oil rose 0.3% to $66.77 per barrel. Copper declined 0.8% to $3.23 per pound and gold was stable at $1,313 per ounce.

OVERSEAS MARKETS

Wall Street continued its strong performance as tax reforms are expected to boost the US economy.

The Nasdaq enjoyed the biggest rise, closing 1.5% higher and exceeding the 7,000 mark overnight.

MID AND LARGE CAP RISERS AND FALLERS

Low-cost airline Ryanair (RYA) revealed a 3% increase in passenger volumes during December to 9.3 million, although it expects lower fares this year. The airline flew 3.8% higher to €15.58.

Broker Liberum was optimistic about housebuilder Bellway (BWY) after hiking its target price from £33.36 to £39.30. Despite the positive outlook from Liberum, the shares were static at £36.20.

Babcock International's (BAB) joint venture with UGL won a further five-year deal to provide maintenance support services for the Australian Navy. The good news failed to excite as the stock was marked 1.2% lower to 709.6p.

SMALL CAP RISERS AND FALLERS

Embattled construction firm Carillion (CLLN) said the Financial Conduct Authority started an investigation into the company. According to reports, the investigation could be linked to stock market announcements from Carillion between 7 December 2016 and 10 July 2017. The stock dropped 4.2% to 17.2p in response.

Spreadbetter Plus 500 (PLUS) rose 18.9% to £10.48 on expectations that it would beat full year sales and profit expectations, driven by higher customer numbers and strong trading. This helped to offset weak sentiment after a sector-wide clampdown.

Staffing specialist Staffline (STAF) reported that it is anticipating full year results will be in line with expectations, but sales will likely fail to hit its £1bn target. Investors took the news in their stride as the stock declined 2% to 990p.