October 23, 2013 5:31 pm

Insurers gain despite London market weakness

The faint whiff of bid speculation helped insurers maintain gains, even after rumours of an approach by Generali for Britain’s RSA Insurance were quickly dispelled by the Italian company.

RSA’s shares climbed on talk that any one of a number of major European insurance groups could be interested in the company, including Generali, Germany’s Allianz and Zurich Financial. Generali denied any interest.

Analyst were cautious of the rumours also, suggesting that Tuesday’s move by RSA’s house broker JPMorgan Cazenove to raise its target price to 141p from 132p and reiterate its overweight rating may have prompted some delayed interest in the shares.

Yet the stock climbed 2.5 per cent to 127.05p, the biggest riser on a weak FTSE 100, and helped some rival insurers higher.

Resolution gained 0.7 per cent to 349.95p while Legal & General added 1.4 per cent to 212.95p.

The main stock index was down 21.18 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 6,674.48, ending a winning streak that had lasted for nine days.

Banks and miners accounted for much of the weakness. Royal Bank of Scotland lost 2.7 per cent to 351.85p on fears over its exposure to the mis-selling of US mortgage-backed bonds. Recent broker analysis has been unsupportive of RBS shares also.

On Tuesday, Credit Suisse reiterated its underperform rating, citing the bad bank debate and “uncertainty over the future shape of the group”.

Citigroup on Wednesday cited valuation concerns as it delivered a sell/high risk rating on RBS.

Shares in Barclays fell 1.6 per cent to 268.15p while HSBC lost 1.4 per cent to 678.35p after the planned sale of its operations in Pakistan failed to meet regulatory approval.

Anglo American led the mining sector lower after the company’s Amplats platinum unit in South Africa looked likely to enter official dispute with the country’s construction and mineworkers union over stalled wage talks. Its shares fell 3.9 per cent to £14.95.

There were some large moves on the second-tier index, led by Pace, the maker of television set-top boxes, after it agreed to buy US rival Aurora Networks for $310m.

Pace said the acquisition would “add significantly” to 2014 earnings and the shares jumped 11.7 per cent to 323.45p.

Laird, which makes components for electronic equipment, including smartphones, climbed 8.1 per cent to 244.4p after reporting a 6 per cent rise in third-quarter revenues.

At the bottom of the FTSE 250 stood De La Rue, the world’s biggest printer of banknotes, which cut its annual profit target due to pricing pressure from competitors. Its shares fell 9.7 per cent to 885.25p.

The FTSE 250 index fell 0.1 per cent to 15,494.97.

Back on the main index, GlaxoSmithKline reaffirmed its full-year earnings growth target of 3-4 per cent but the shares fell 1.9 per cent to £15.71 after the pharmaceuticals group reported a 61 per cent drop in sales in China during the third quarter following the start in July of an anti-corruption investigation.

Arm Holdings, which reported stronger than expected licensing revenues on Tuesday but was light on royalty revenues, extended losses as a number of analysts expressed valuation concerns.

The shares, before Tuesday’s losses, had gained 35 per cent this year but were down 5 per cent to 954p on Wednesday, taking the two-day losses to 8.2 per cent.

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