FTSE ends month on positive note

London’s top flight index ended the month on a positive note today after shrugging off worse-than-expected US growth figures and big losses at taxpayer-backed Royal Bank of Scotland.

The FTSE 100 closed up 34.9 points at 6360.8, despite a 7% fall in shares at part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland, after it revealed its fifth year of losses since being bailed out by the taxpayer.

Blue chips were also unmoved by the flat opening on Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average after US GDP data posted its worst performance in nearly two years.

The growth figures showed that while the US economy grew 0.1% between October and December in a reversal of the initial 0.1% contraction reported last month, the revision was well below the 0.5% growth expected by economists.

It was central bank bosses who provided a boost to trader sentiment after offering vigorous defences of their monetary easing policies.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke talked up the bank’s asset purchases programme in front of US politicians, while there were similar reassuring comments from European Central Bank head Mario Draghi.

Mr Draghi’s dovish tone, which fuelled fears of an interest rate cut, provided a welcome boost to the struggling pound, which was up against the euro at 1.16. It was also up against the US dollar at 1.52.

RBS neared the top of the fallers board on London’s blue chip after it slumped into the red by £5.2 billion in 2012. Although underlying results showed a near doubling in operating profits, shares were down 22.9p to 323.9p amid fears over subdued prospects in the UK.

Outsourcing group Capita also saw its shares fall 24.5p to 823.5p, despite achieving record sales for 2012 of £3.3 billion, helped by the award of £4 billion of contracts, including its biggest ever of £1.7 billion over 20 years with Staffordshire County Council.

British Airways parent company International Airlines Group was the biggest riser in the top flight after operating losses of 68 million euros (£58.8 million) came in better than its guidance of 120 million euros (£103.7 million) in November.

The 8% rally, up 17.5p to 239.2p, came despite bottom-line losses of 997 million euros (£862 million) due to the cost of restructuring ailing Spanish flag carrier Iberia.

ITV returned to the risers board with a hefty gain of 4%, or 5.2p to 124.2p, as yesterday’s results-day decline turned out to be a blip in its recent surge.

In the FTSE 250 Index, National Express leapt 13% – up 24.7p to 220p – buoyed by a positive outlook after recent contract wins in Spain, north America and Germany.

Pre-tax profits of £164 million came in higher than expected, even though they were down sharply on the £180.2 million in 2011 after it was hit by the withdrawal of the Government’s senior citizen concession scheme.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were International Airlines Group up 17.5p to 239.2p, ITV ahead 5.2p to 124.2p, GKN 8.8p higher at 273p and Standard Life up 10.6p to 352.5p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Kazakhmys down 58p to 619p, Royal Bank of Scotland off 22.9p to 323.9p, Capita 24.5p lower at 823.5p and Petrofac down 43p to 1454p.

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