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Market report: Nervous day for insurance firms.

London's blue-chip shares endured a mixed ride yesterday, finishing a session marked by uncertainty on a low, down 11.8 points at 4137.

Early jitters about insurance sector dividend payments sent the benchmark FTSE 100 Index tumbling before investor nerves settled and returned it to positive territory.

London's performance also reflected a poor opening for Wall Street.

Insurance giant Prudential proved a major driver for London shares throughout the session after announcing plans to reduce its full-year dividend by 40 per cent. The shares slipped 143/4p to 420p.

Other insurers were also hit by the news, with Norwich Union owner Aviva 13p at 4843/4p, Royal & Sun Alliance off 1/1p at 1511/4p and Legal & General down 2p at 961/1p.

On a brighter note, healthcare group Amersham topped the Footsie risers board, with a gain of 391/1p to 4901/1p, after reporting half-year results in line with market expectations.

It was closely followed by United Utilities which saw shares recover 31p to 563p after a fall Monday when the group announced a rights issue.

Also riding high in the blue-chip index was confectionery-to-drinks company Cadbury Schweppes, which benefited from being upgraded by City analysts after promising results last week. Shares rose 133/4p to 3791/1p.

Elsewhere, BP fell 31/4p to 4191/1p as the market continued to digest the oil giant's first half figures.

Meanwhile, cigarette group British American Tobacco saw its shares slip 4p lower to 650p despite announcing a two per cent rise in half-yearly operating profits and a ten per cent increase in its interim dividend.

Shares in telephone giant BT lost a penny to 2053/4p as the company announced it was re-entering the mobile phone market with a range of family-friendly products.

Outside the Footsie, United Business Media surged 501/1p to 3931/1p - while engineering group Cookson lifted 21/1p to 261/4p, as both impressed with interim figures.

Debenhams, which agreed the terms of a takeover by private equity group Permira, rose 91/1p to 4321/1p as investors eyed the possibility of a rival bid.

Meanwhile investment firm St James' Place Capital rose 6p to 116p despite disappointing investors with a 17 per cent fall in new business sales during the first half.

The Midlands risers included Jasmin up 3p at 1011/1p and ITNET up 151/1p at 279p.

The Midlands fallers were Dowding & Mills down 1.38p at 73/4p and IDN Telecom down 0.13p at 1.13p.

Leading the Footsie risers were Amersham up 391/1p at 4901/1p, United Utilities ahead 31p at 563p, and Bunzl ahead 141/4p at 432.25p.

Heading the fallers were Prudential down 143/4p at 420p, Aviva off 13p at 4843/4p, InterContinental Hotels down 12p at 4641/1p and Anglo American off 25p at 1070p.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 30, 2003
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