Banks and betting firms dragged the London market into the red last night as traders failed to warm to the latest batch of corporate news.
William Hill and HBOS were among the fallers that contributed to the FTSE 100 Index slipping 7.7 points to 4992.8, eroding yesterday's gains that took it through the 5000 barrier. Despite encouraging profits rises from both companies, concerns at other aspects of the results forced traders to turn away.
Paul Webb, trader at deal4free.com, said investors may start moving back into the market, but warned: "With little on the economic or corporate calendars over the next 24 hours, gains may well be capped."
In London, HBOS lost one per cent of its value, down 10.5p to 836.5p, despite delivering betterthanexpected results and saying it had doubled profits since its creation from the merger of Halifax and Bank of Scotland in 2001.
Analysts cited concern over the level of bad debts at its retail arm for the share price fall. Lloyds TSB, which will post annual results on Friday, fell almost one per cent, or 4.5p to 490.75p while Barclays was 8.5p lower at 566p.
Insurer Prudential also slipped one per cent in the wake of its results, but recovered as the session wore on to stand 1.75p higher at 486.25p.
It improved annual profits by 39 per cent and set out its expectations for a further strong rise in sales growth in the UK this year.
Other financial stocks in the doldrums included Royal & Sun Alliance, off 1.5p at 83.25p, and Norwich Union owner Aviva, down a penny to 659.5p.
Gambling groups Hilton and William Hill were at the top of the Footsie fallers board after the latter said it was putting thoughts of expanding into casinos on the back burner.
William Hill shares fell 18p to 597p, even though profits rose 16 per cent and the company promised greater returns for shareholders. Hilton was 12p lower at 304.25p.
Shares in Shire Pharmaceuticals failed to move from their opening point of 590p despite a 12 per cent hike in profits from continuing operations. It came as Shire said sales of hyperactivity drug Adderall XR would be flat in the first three months of 2005 because of a safety scare in Canada and a price rise in the United States.
And investors in the company caught up in the controversy surrounding food contaminated with potentially cancercausing dye Sudan 1 breathed a sigh of relief as it stuck by earlier comments that it did not expect to lose money. Shares in Premier Foods lifted 10p to 274p.
Biggest Footsie risers were Man Group up 51p to 1405p, Rentokil Initial rising 2.5p to 162.25p, Sainsbury up 3.75p to 291p and Vodafone rising 1.75p to 140p.
Heaviest fallers were Hilton off 12p to 304.25p, William Hill down 18p to 597p, Gallaher off 21p to 769p and Centrica falling 6p to 235p.