Utilities spark FTSE gains

Rising utility stocks provided the FTSE 100 with a boost despite a lack of corporate news.

A positive write up from analysts at investment bank Credit Suisse helped British Gas owner Centrica (CNA) top the blue-chip leader board, up 2.5% to 145.3p.

The broker was also bullish on United Utilities (UU.), which rose 1.8% to 814.6p.

The FTSE 100 was ahead by 0.3% to 7,720.

Brent crude oil dipped 1% $67.40 per barrel.

New car sales declined for the first time in six years in 2017 according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. This was blamed on lower diesel demand as higher taxes and negative sentiment made an impact.

Motor retailers suffered the fallout from the news, with Pendragon (PDG) reversing 2.3% to 27.1p and Lookers (LOOK) retreating 1.7% to 99.8p.

Vertu Motors (VTU) fell 2.6% to 49.8p.

OVERSEAS MARKETS

Strong employment data continued to lift investor sentiment in the US with the Dow Jones surpassing the 25,000 mark for the first time.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq enjoyed smaller gains overnight.

SMALL CAP RISERS AND FALLERS

Investors in onshore UK oil and gas firms were left disappointed after the Planning Inspectorate unexpectedly upheld a decision to block development on the Wressle oil discovery in Lincolnshire.

The companies behind the project, Egdon Resources (EDR) (operator with a 25% stake), Union Jack Oil (UJO) and Europa Oil & Gas (EOG) were all sharply lower on the news.

Egdon sank 15.3% to 6.9p, Union Jack was down 22% to 0.12p and Europa fell 12.3% to 5p.

Contractor Keller (KLR) jumped 5.5% to £10.12 after revealing its earnings are set to benefit from the recent US tax reform. The company said it was in talks to acquire US rival Moretrench in a bid to boost overseas growth.

US tax reform also provided a tailwind for Abcam (ABC). Shares in the life sciences specialist were up 2.4% to £10.52 on an expected one-off tax credit of between £6m and £7m and strong trading.

The market was apparently hoping for earnings upgrades from musical instruments retailer Gear4music (G4M). The stock fell 3.6% to 744p despite strong trading over the Christmas holidays.

Johnson Service (JSG) advanced 1.4% to 143.6p following the announcement that full year results are expected to beat management expectations thanks to good trading. The protective clothing provider also acquired catering linen business StarCounty to boost its presence in the North West and the West Midlands.

Butcher Crawshaw (CRAW) warned that a softer consumer environment and uncertain cost inflation would continue to drag on profitability. The news overshadowed record sales in the week before Christmas as the stock shed 5.9% to 10.7p.