Randgold Resources was the best-performing blue chip as the FTSE 100 missed out on a seventh consecutive sessions of gains.
Shares in the gold miner gained 8.8 per cent to £49.68 as short sellers scrambled to close positions.
The buying was triggered by reports that rebel forces, fighting to install a democratically-elected president in the Ivory Coast, had seized a key port and were closing in on Abidjan, the country’s biggest city.
Randgold has been hit hard by the political uncertainty in the African country. Its shares have dipped sharply on fears it would be be forced to halt operations at its Tongon mine – which is expected to contribute a third of group output.
Collins Stewart said a return to normality in the Ivory Coast could see Randgold shares move back above £55. Separately, Randgold, confirmed targets for 2011 and said Tongon was on course to produce 260,000-270,000 ounces of gold this year.
The FTSE 100, meanwhile, closed 39.54 points, or 0.6 per cent, lower at 5,908 following a late sell-off triggered by end-of-quarter window dressing and the release of the stress test results for Ireland’s banks.
In addition, traders were reluctant to place large bets ahead of today’s US employment figures.
Nonetheless, the index still managed to end the quarter with a gain of almost 19 points.
ITV, down 3.8 per cent to 77.35p, took the FTSE 100 wooden spoon on concerns about the outlook for advertising following recent profit warnings from the retail sector.
Vodafone, off 1.8 per cent to 176½p, was also on offer after buying out its Indian partner in a $5bn deal while International Power slipped 2.2 per cent to 308p after JPMorgan cut its target price, warning there was a risk that earnings forecasts might have to downgraded.
Chip designer Arm Holdings bucked the weak market, rising 2.2 per cent to 575p on the back of a Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgrade to “buy”.
The broker said recent share price weakness – ARM fell 15 per cent during March – had presented a buying opportunity.
“We model Arm retaining a very high share of smartphones and see some gradual adoption of Arm [designs] in the notebook PC market from the second half of 2012,” with the new iPad2 and other tablets helping to underpin royalties, added the broker.
Dixons Retail Group remained under pressure, falling a further 8.2 per cent to £12.57 as analysts cut forecasts.
“The pressure is on and despite the obvious talent of the management team, we fear that the shares are likely to drift down to the 10p level – move to sell,” said Oriel Securities, which is not surprised that the company is looking to conserve cash.
All told, it was another grim day for the retail sector after Mothercare, down 9.5 per cent to 400p, warned on the trading outlook for its UK operations, which it sees remaining under “significant pressure” in 2011-12.
That warning saw traders mark a number of retailers lower including Carpetright, off 4.5 per cent to 680½p, and Dunelm, 6.4 per cent cheaper at 383.90p.
Capital Shopping Centres eased 0.3 per cent to 383p after Credit Suisse flagged concerns about the outlook for the Lakeside and Trafford Centre shopping mall owner. “CSC lost 10 per cent of it’s retail units due to insolvencies in Q4 2008 & Q1 2009 leading to a halving of it’s dividend,” the broker noted.
C&W Worldwide gave up 3.5 per cent to 52.45p on reports that its highly regarded finance director had resigned following a row over the timing and content of a recent trading statement and subsequent profit warning.
Petropavlovsk shed 5.9 per cent to 998p after earnings from the Russian gold miner came in significantly below forecasts. Collins Stewart said there was a simple explanation for the miss: a lack of understanding amongst analysts on the group’s increasing cash costs. “Our higher cash costs placed our forecasts at the bottom end of the consensus range, while obviously company guidance has been lacking in highlighting this,” it said.