Buoyant Unilever helps save FTSE from global falls

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The FTSE 100 was bookended by two companies posting unusually big movements in opposite directions as it managed to eke out its fifth straight session in the green.

The index managed modest growth as the heft of Unilever, its best performer on Tuesday, managed to outweigh a plunge by retailer B&M.

By the end of the day the FTSE was up 7.6 points, or 0.1%, hitting 7,607.66.

Unilever’s big push upwards – shares rose 9.4% – was an unmistakable welcome for Nelson Peltz, an activist investor appointed to the consumer giant’s board on Tuesday.

Rumours of Peltz taking a stake in the firm have been swirling for months. The stake was confirmed at 1.5%, making his group one of Unilever’s biggest shareholders.

The share price seems to have moved whenever Peltz’s name was mentioned in recent months. He is widely credited with helping to turn around Unilever rival Procter & Gamble over recent years.

Unilever’s massive heft, it is one of the biggest companies on the FTSE, certainly helped to lift the market, but strong showing from the natural resources sector did not harm.

For Shell and BP the 1.6% rise in the price of a barrel of oil was a boon. Brent crude cost 123.66 dollars shortly before European markets closed.

But on the continent and in the US the oil price did not help them avoid a dip. By the end of the day the German Dax index had dropped 1.3% while Paris’s Cac 40 was 1.4% lower.

In New York, too, markets were lower. The S&P 500 was down 1.1% when the lights went out all over Europe and the Dow Jones had lost 1.2%.

“After yesterday’s tepid start to the week, European markets look set to finish a positive month on a weak note after another record high in EU CPI (Consumer Prices Index inflation) which saw prices rise more than expected in May to 8.1%,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

“This, combined with further upside pressure in oil prices has served as a dead weight on European markets today, with the FTSE 100 outperforming.

“Hawkish comments from Fed governor Christopher Waller yesterday also weighed on sentiment, pushing US yields sharply higher, putting him at odds with Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic who suggested it might be worth looking at a pause in hiking rates in September.”

On currency markets the pound could buy 1.2601 dollars, a rise of 0.01%, or 1.1753 euros, down 0.08%.

B&M shareholders were left hurting on Tuesday as the business reported an unwelcome dip in sales.

Although a slowdown is to be expected as the UK came out of lockdown – B&M was an essential retailer – the latest figures show sales were more than 13% lower in the last eight weeks than a year ago.

“Management went on to warn that trading patterns were likely to remain unpredictable, which could see consumers prioritising spending away from higher margin products which is likely to see a dilution in margins more broadly,” said Mr Hewson.

Shares cratered after the announcement, and ended down over 15%.

The company also announced that it had promoted finance boss Alex Russo to chief executive after long-term boss Simon Arora announced his departure.

He has worked for Asda, Tesco and B&Q owner Kingfisher in the past.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Unilever, up 329.5p to 3,825p, Airtel Africa, up 2.8p to 154.6p, BT, up 3.3p to 187.25p, Harbour Energy, up 5.3p to 384.2p, and British American Tobacco, up 46p to 3,502p.

The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 were B&M, down 69.0p to 389.7p, Royal Mail, down 18.3p to 310.6p, IAG, down 7.4p to 127.64p, Fresnillo, down 35.0p to 774.2p, and Persimmon, down 77.0p to 2,177p.

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