Next shares leads FTSE 100 higher

Market trader (file picture) Image copyright Getty Images

London's main share index gained ground on Thursday led by retailer Next, as investors reacted to its results.

The FTSE 100 index ended the day 15.99 points or 0.22% ahead at 7,340.71.

Next shares jumped by 8% despite the retailer reporting its first fall in annual profits for eight years, with profits dropping to £790m.

"Not a pretty set of figures from Next but no worse than expected after warning on profits in January," said Neil Wilson at ETX Capital.

"Investors seem to be reassured that it's taking steps to turn things around with a focus on core products."

Marks and Spencer was the second biggest climber on the FTSE 100, rising by 3.7%.

Shares in Tesco rose 1.9% after Deutsche Bank raised its rating on the supermarket to "buy". However, shares in rival Sainsbury's slipped 0.13% as Deutsche cut its rating to "hold".

Shares in Kingfisher fell a further 1.4% as investors continued to react to the Screwfix and B&Q owner's results on Wednesday.

Kingfisher reported a big rise in annual profits but gave a cautious outlook because of uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the French presidential elections.

'Dramatic shift'

Elsewhere on the FTSE 100 RBS saw its shares climb by 2.13%, after it announced it would close nearly 160 branches. RBS blamed a "dramatic shift" in banking, with branch transactions falling 43% since 2010.

"RBS is making good on its promise to slash costs - good news for shareholders in the short term but no so great for customers and staff. It might also be bad news for profits going forward if it is to grow the business and invest enough in new technology," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital.

On the currency markets, sterling hit a one month high against the dollar on news of a stronger-than-expected rise in UK retail sales last month.

Sales rose 1.4% in February from the month before. However, the underlying picture was weaker and most of sterling's gains were gradually erased as the day progressed.

It peaked at $1.2532, its highest since 24 February before falling back.

It was 0.37% up against the dollar at $1.2526, and was 0.42% higher against the euro at 1.1614 euros.

Commerzbank currency strategist Thu Lan Nguyen said the retail sales were "obviously stronger than expected which just added to the recently rather positive sentiment towards the pound.

"But obviously there are some people questioning the sustainability of this trend in consumption," she added.