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Sterling surge sees FTSE's advance fizzle out

Yet again a rally on the FTSE 100 fizzled out although this time the reason for the drift lower was a strong gain for sterling on vaccine-led recovery hopes. By the close the index was up 0.3% at 6660.75.

The rise for the pound came despite the fact the UK unemployment rate rose to 5% in the three months through November, up from 4.9% in the previous three months, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The increase was smaller than market expectations for a 5.1% advance.

In the US the S&P 500 was flat at 3,855.42 by 4.30pm UK time. Plant-based food producer Beyond Meat shares enjoyed double-digit gains as it announced a tie-up with PepsiCo.

Aerospace engineer Rolls-Royce erased some of its earlier heavier losses down 2.1% at 96p, having warned of £2 billion free-cash outflow in 2021 as more contagious variants of Covid-19 spur tighter travel restrictions.

Rolls-Royce said enhanced restrictions were delaying the recovery of long-haul travel over the coming months compared to its prior expectations, impacting cash flows.

Sportswear retailer JD Sports Fashion fell 2.8% to 795p after it confirmed press speculation that it was mulling an equity raising 'to invest in future strategic opportunities'.

Sky News reported that JD Sports was in talks about a £400 million share sale that could be launched as early as this week.

Consumer goods group PZ Cussons rose 0.8% to 240p as it held its interim dividend steady at 2.67p after its adjusted earnings rose on higher sales of hand wash and sanitiser amid the pandemic.

PZ Cussons net profit more than halved due to one-off costs associated with its Nigerian business and a prior-year gain on a Greek asset sale. But adjusted profit climbed 16% amid a 10% rise in sales.

Irn-bru maker AG Barr added 0.3% to 498p after it upgraded its profit outlook following a stronger-than-expected second-half showing.

Convenience foods manufacturer Greencore slipped 3% to 113p on reporting a 15% fall in first-quarter revenue, as Covid-19 hurt its food-to-go categories.

Healthcare services group UDG Healthcare climbed 4.7% to 817p, having guided for its annual adjusted earnings to rise 9-11% after its Ashfield and Sharp businesses shone in the first-quarter.

Russia-focused gold miner Petropavlovsk fell 1.5% to 30.7p after its production dropped 30% in the fourth quarter, causing it to fall short of its annual guidance.

The fall in the fourth quarter limited full-year output to 548.1 ounces, which was nevertheless 6% higher than 2019's 517.3 ounces.

Quilter, the fund manager recently spun out of Old Mutual, firmed 2.3% to 156.3p on news that its annual assets under management had risen 7%, boosted by improved net inflows and positive market movements.

Fashion retailer Quiz fell 4.5% to 7.03p as it booked an underlying first-half loss after its sales were hammered by the pandemic.

Over-50s services group Saga shed 3.1% to 269.2p despite announcing that it expected to report a full-year underlying profit.

Saga said its insurance business was offset continued pressure on a cruise division battered by the pandemic.