London stock indices inched higher on Friday led by precious metals producers, but BHP Billiton fell on news of negative total returns to shareholders over the five years to June.

The miner cut bonus payments to its executives as a result, even as it outperformed the wider sector with a negative total return to shareholders of 9.4 per cent compared with an industry average of negative 44 per cent.

BHP’s London-listed shares fell 0.9 per cent to £18.92. It was the biggest loss in the sector.

After opening losses London’s main index nudged 8 points, or 0.1 per cent, higher at 6,455.3 after an hour of trade, in light volume ahead of a long weekend break. The UK market is closed on Monday for the late-summer public holiday.

Stocks with defensive properties were in demand ahead of the break.

Speciality chemicals maker Croda was up 3.3 per cent at £26.52 after Deutsche Bank raised its rating to buy from hold.

Deutsche analyst Martin Dunwoodie said: “Croda has pursued a successful strategy for over a decade, although top line growth has slowed over the past year and lagged some of its consumer-focused peers in chemicals. We view this slowdown as cyclical rather than structural and expect sales growth to accelerate driven by a resumption of growth in crop care and personal care.”

Insurer Prudential was 2.3 per cent higher at £11.47.

Precious metals miners were supported, in spite of modest losses for gold and silver prices. However, spot gold prices have risen nearly 7 per cent in the past couple of weeks, and Randgold Resources was up 1.2 per cent to £51.01, while silver miner Fresnillo gained 1.2 per cent to £12.30.

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