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Earnings in focus as FTSE finds support in weaker pound

FILE PHOTO: The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London, Britain, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

By Danilo Masoni

MILAN (Reuters) - Earnings updates were the main focus on Thursday as Britain's top share index inched higher, but it stayed within recent tight ranges as caution over the outcome of Brexit talks predominated.

The FTSE 100 (.FTSE) ended the session up 0.1 percent at 7,683.97 points, reversing earlier slight losses after data showed retail sales growth rose less than expected in June, depressing the pound and supporting shares in export-oriented companies.

The more domestically focussed mid cap FTSE 250 (.FTMC) fell 0.4 percent.

Unilever (ULVR.L) extended gains to top the FTSE after the consumer goods maker reported profits that beat expectations on higher margins.

"Unilever missed its first half sales growth target due to strikes in Brazil but overall the picture remains positive," said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com.

"...No reason to think the group cannot achieve its (margin) target of 20 percent by 2020. But the focus now is on the move out of London, which shareholders will vote on in October."

Its shares fell as much as 1.2 percent at one stage but recovered to end 3 percent higher, also helped by the weaker pound.


Among the top fallers was SSE (SSE.L), down 2.3 percent after Britain's second-largest energy supplier lost more customers in the first quarter. Advertising giant WPP (WPP.L) fell nearly 3 percent after a disappointing update from French peer Publicis.

Among mid caps, engineer Babcock (BAB.L) fell 8.8 percent after it cut its revenues growth outlook on delays in government spending, while price comparison website Moneysupermarket (MONY.L) rose 6.2 percent following solid results and signs its growth strategy was working.

Mining stocks, under pressure over concerns that a trade war could slow global growth, were broadly lower as metal prices fell. [MET/L]

The FTSE 100 index has been trading in narrow ranges in recent weeks as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to keep her cabinet united ahead of Britain's scheduled departure from the EU in March 2019.



(Reporting by Danilo Masoni and Kit Rees; editing by John Stonestreet)