The FTSE 100 held steady after the UK Budget on Wednesday, with gains for sectors set to benefit from new government measures providing support.
The biggest movers were in the house building sector after George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, said the Get Britain Building fund, which provides upfront finance to construction companies, would be expanded.
Barratt Development jumped toward the top of the mid-cap FTSE 250 index, climbing 4.7 per cent in closing trade to 149.2p, while Bovis Homes rose 3.2 per cent to 508½p. Persimmon gained 2.4 per cent to 675½p while building supplies group Wolseley on the FTSE 100 gained 2.6 per cent to £25.58.
Technology companies were also highly sought after the chancellor announced incentives for British media and technology groups producing films and electronic games. Chip designers Arm Holdings and Imagination Technologies were both among the beneficiaries, up 1.5 per cent to 593½p and 4.5 per cent to 703p respectively.
Lamprell, the oil rig constructor, climbed 2.7 per cent to 338.9p on news of efforts to boost productivity and expand oil fields in the North Sea.
Overall, the FTSE 100 was flat at 5,891.95 in closing trade, having been lower ahead of the Budget. The FTSE 250, seen as more representative of the domestic UK economy, was 0.2 per cent higher at 11,656.75, a rise of 24 points. The yield on the 10-year note fell 5 basis points to 2.37 per cent while sterling remained 0.1 per cent lower at $1.5846.
News of higher than expected government borrowing for February sparked a sense of caution running into the chancellor’s speech, taking the benchmark index off session highs it never recovered. The public sector net borrowing requirement climbed to £12.909bn from £6.066bn in the same month a year earlier, as growth in tax receipts fell back.
“February’s UK public finance figures are rather worse than the chancellor would have hoped for, ” said Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics.
“Growth of tax receipts slowed and, after underspending for the rest of the financial year, departments appear to have had a final splurge.”
Retailers remained in demand in London on Wednesday after a well-received fourth-quarter trading update from J Sainsbury helped the sector build on gains made last week.
The FTSE 100 supermarket chain said like-for-like sales in the period rose 2.6 per cent excluding fuel. It was also upbeat in its outlook, saying the busy calendar of events in the coming summer, including the Queen’s diamond jubilee and the London Olympic Games would underpin its continued growth. Sainsbury’s shares rose 4.5 per cent to 314.9p, the best performer on the benchmark index.
Other high street stocks were encouraged by the numbers. Among them, Marks and Spencer rose 2.5 per cent to 389½p.
Serco, the outsourcing company rose after a rating upgrade from HSBC. The bank lifted its stance on the stock from “neutral” to “overweight”, labelling it the sector’s “preferred pick”. The stock gained 1 per cent to 547.6p.
There was also news that the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee heard more advocacy for further quantitative easing at its February meeting, with two of its nine members calling for a further £25bn in stimulus.
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