US uncertainty weighs on FTSE

Uncertainty over whether US political rivals will agree a crucial spending and taxation deal drove a volatile run on the London market today.

Fears that the US risks slipping into recession if hundreds of billions of dollars in expiring tax cuts and automatic spending reductions are allowed to take effect saw the FTSE 100 Index close 2.4 points lower at 5767.3.

London's leading shares index fluctuated in and out of the red throughout the session as optimism over the likelihood of Democrats and Republicans striking a deal ahead of the January 1 fiscal cliff deadline wavered.

Meanwhile, the mood was dampened by figures on Japan's economy, which contracted by 0.9% in the third quarter and now looks likely to go into recession in the final three months of the year.

The pound fell against the US dollar to 1.58 as the greenback benefited from its perceived status as a safe-haven investment amid times of uncertainty. Sterling also dropped against the euro to 1.24 as the single currency was boosted after Greece approved its 2013 austerity budget.

Banks were among the stronger performers in the top flight, with Barclays ahead 4.8p to 234.9p, Royal Bank of Scotland 4.4p higher at 274.5p and Lloyds Banking Group 1.5p higher at 45.1p.

Elsewhere on the risers board, Confused.com owner Admiral continued to benefit from a broker upgrade on Friday, with its shares recovering from weakness seen in recent weeks to stand 4% or 38p higher at 1092p.

Security services firm G4S featured highly on the fallers board, down 4.7p to 248.7p, as it suffered more fall out from its failure to land the latest round of contracts to operate prisons in the UK. Fellow outsourcing firm Serco was also lower, down 3.5p to 551p.

Outside the top flight, the focus was on the housebuilding sector after updates from three of the sector's biggest players.

Bovis Homes fared well for a while, lifting 2% after it said it remained on track to report a strong increase in revenues in 2012. Its operating margin is also set to improve to around 13% as it benefits from building homes on land bought after the credit crunch.

But its shares were later 9p lower at 506.5p, while Taylor Wimpey was marginally down at 58.75p and Redrow fell 2p to 156.6p after announcing steady trading performances.

In corporate results, logistics firm Wincanton made headway after it reported a return to half-year profit and said it had clinched two major retail deals with B&Q and Morrisons.

With chief executive Eric Born pointing to "gathering momentum" in the company's turnaround, shares were 1.5p higher at 76.5p.

But Dorset-based defence and aerospace firm Cobham, which makes systems that allow planes to refuel in mid-air and antennae for fighter jets, dropped 10% after it said budget pressure in the US would cause revenues to decline by low-to-mid single digits next year, despite growth in commercial markets.

Shares were 20.4p lower at 190.6p.

The biggest Footsie risers were Admiral up 38p at 1092p, Lloyds Banking Group ahead 1.5p at 45.1p, Polymetal up 35p at 1149p and Burberry ahead 30p at 1247p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Anglo American down 38.5p at 1827.5p, G4S off 4.7p at 248.7p, Amec down 19p at 1030p and BG Group off 16.5p at 1040.5p.

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