FTSE regains lustre as gold price rises amid US tensions with Russia
LONDON'S top-flight index edged back into positive territory, but struggled for momentum after the pound pushed ahead on the latest inflation data.
The FTSE 100 Index closed up 16.56 points to 7,365.5, with precious metals stocks pulling the market higher following a jump in the gold price by 1.2 per cent to US$1,271 per ounce.
Randgold Resources lifted nearly 5 per cent, or 350p to 7,580p, and Fresnillo booked a 69p rise to 1,652p, after the price of gold climbed amid simmering political tensions between the US and Russia.
However, sterling stopped the London market from rising any higher after March's inflation data inspired a healthy jump from the pound.
The UK currency was 0.5 per cent ahead versus the US dollar at 1.248 and 0.3 per cent up on the euro at 1.176 after the Consumer Price Index (CPI) held steady at 2.3 per cent last month.
The CPI reading, unchanged from February and in line with economists' expectations, was the joint highest level since September 2013.
The cost of living is expected to climb over the coming months, putting pressure on the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to hike interest rates beyond 0.25 per cent.
However, MPC members have urged caution over an imminent rise, with sterling's plunge since the EU referendum result vote squeezing consumers as companies pass down their soaring costs.
Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, said: "There wasn't anything to really challenge UK inflation for market-dominance this Tuesday – not that the CPI reading caused too much movement.
"After initially being disappointed that it didn't build on last month's 2.3 per cent, the pound seemed content enough with the inflation figure.
"(The) inflation data was a bit of a bust in the excitement stakes; it will be interesting to see if (today's) jobs report is similarly stable or, more specifically, if the gap between inflation and wage growth has widened any further."
Across Europe, Germany's Dax was 0.5 per cent off and the Cac 40 in France slipped 0.1 per cent.
The price of oil dropped 0.6 per cent to US$55.62 a barrel, falling from a five-week high on the back of strong US crude inventory levels.
In UK stocks, second tier retailer JD Sports was in the ascendency after a reporting a record set of annual results.
Shares in the FTSE 250 firm jumped more than 8 per cent, or 33.5p to 440.1p, as pre-tax profits rose by 81 per cent to £238m in the year to January 28, while revenue grew 31 per cent to £2.3 billion.
Like-for-like sales expanded 10 per cent over the period and executive chairman Peter Cowgill said, in spite of rising inflation, the firm is well-placed for growth.
The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 Index were Randgold Resources up 350p to 7,580p, Fresnillo up 69p to 1,652p, easyJet up 22p to 1,078p, International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) up 10.5p to 539p.
The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 Index were Royal Bank of Scotland down 4.5p to 234.5p, Hikma Pharmaceuticals down 27p to 1,919p, Standard Chartered down 10p to 726.6p, Carnival down 60p to 4,544p.