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Losing streak broken with takeover talk; SHARE PRICES MARKET REPORT.

The FTSE 100 Index broke a weeklong losing streak yesterday as takeover talk in the property sector and early advances for US markets lifted bluechip stocks.

The benchmark index gained almost 1.5 per cent, led by Liberty International, up more than nine per cent on reports of merger talks with Westfield over becoming the world's largest shopping mall group.

Wall Street also took impetus from better than expected US service sector data giving some temporary respite to fears over the economy, leaving the Footsie 85.8 points higher at 5853.5.

The advance came despite a number of heavyweight stocks turning exdividend - meaning shares traded without the right to the latest shareholder payout - and dipping into the red.

Shares in that category dominated the fallers' board, with banks leading the way. Royal Bank of Scotland - the leading faller - was down 12.25p to 355p as a result, Barclays was 9.25p lower at 447.5p and Lloyds TSB off 12p to 428.25p.

Other ex-dividend stocks were British American Tobacco, which was off 58p to 1848p, and British Energy, down 10.5p at 547p.

But Liberty's gains - up 87p to 1030p on the merger speculation - also helped Hammerson and British Land, which were ahead 61p to 1134p and 52p to 988p respectively.

Insurer Prudential meanwhile gained almost five per cent after the shareholders of Chinese player Ping An approved plans to raise pounds 8.5 billion in funding. The Pru rose 41p to 643.5p as investors speculated on Ping An taking a stake in a major European insurer.

Shares in broadcaster ITV began the session in the negative territory after annual profits fell 35 per cent, but later cheered 0.9p to 67.4p.

And British Airways was up 14.5p to 265p after Deutsche Bank maintained a buy rating for the stock despite high recent oil prices expected to affect margins.

Halifax Bank of Scotland was also among the risers after a recent torrid run following poorly received results last week. ABN Amro said the stock now looked cheap, lifting it 31p to 574.5p.

Outside the top flight, shares in newspaper group Johnston Press fell almost three per cent after it said advertising revenues got off to a weak start in 2008. Shares were down 5.5p at 182.75p.

And online gambling group Party Gaming lost nine per cent, or 2.5p to 25p, although underlying profits more than doubled to pounds 56.7 million.

Frankie & Benny's owner Restaurant Group failed to cling on to early gains after like-for-like sales rose four per cent in the first nine weeks of this year. Shares closed 1p lower at 145p.

The Footsie's four biggest risers were Liberty International up 87p to 1030p, Prudential up 41p to 643.5p, Alliance & Leicester up 31p to 544p and Pearson which closed 38p better off at 687.5p.

The four biggest fallers were Royal Bank of Scotland down 12.25p to 355p, British American Tobacco off 58p to 1848p, Lloyds TSB down 12p to 428.25p and GlaxoSmithKline off 28p to 1065p.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 6, 2008
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