In a FTSE 100 that edged up 14.35 points to 6,960.63, Royal Mail, 23½p better at 467.7p, led the risers after PostNL and LDC scrapped plans to expand rival Whistl in the UK. Royal Mail had warned that its competitor would have cost it £200m by 2018.
“Taken at face value a £200m increase in 2018 revenue could result in circa 30pc earnings upgrades for Royal Mail,” said Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts.
Zoopla recorded the biggest gain of any company in the FTSE 250, leaping 30p to 215p after diversifying away from its property website with the acquisition of price comparison business uSwitch.
Events group UBM was lifted 17p to 564½p by reports it is in talks with suitors for its PR Newswire business.
Ocado rose 3.1p to 356p after UBS analyst Andrew Gywnn started coverage of the online grocery delivery business with “buy” advice. A key concern for investors is whether the company can replicate the partnership it has with Wm Morrison with other companies. Mr Gywnn believes it will.
“Ocado may not have an exclusive licence on some of the physical technology it uses, but the customisation and configuration that makes the technology work is not easy to replicate,” he said. “Accordingly, we believe that Ocado is an attractive partner for a retailer looking to go online.”
Like Shell, drugmaker Shire pleased with forecast-beating quarterly earnings and rose 45p to £53.35. But Royal Bank of Scotland disappointed with three-month results and lost 11p to 338½p.
“The key problem remains that income is falling faster than costs, with impairments offering slight relief,” said Investec analyst Ian Gordon.
Elsewhere among the day’s losers Ophir Energy fell heavily after Jan Kulczyk, Poland’s richest man, offloaded his entire 8pc stake in the explorer for £79.3m. The shares were sold at 140p a piece, a price that was 13.5pc lower than Wednesday’s close, and Ophir was dragged down 19.9p to 142p by the depth of the discount.
Mr Kulczyk’s disposal came after Stifel analysts said that recent speculation Ophir was a bid target was wide of the mark, a warning that knocked 9p off the shares on Wednesday. The same analysts said on Thursday that the exit of one of Ophir’s founding investors, who had been its second-biggest shareholder, added substance to their argument.
“It would be reasonable to assume that this placing implies that one of the largest shareholders in Ophir was likely of the same opinion as us: that Ophir at present is not an imminent take-out target,” they said.
Consultancy business RPS Group closed 23.1p lower at 213p, having rattled investors with a warning that its energy business had suffered a “slower than expected start to the year”, hit by oil and gas customers cutting spending in the face of volatile crude prices. Marine services group James Fisher also dropped 147p to £11.56 after warning that its offshore oil business had a “slow start” to 2015.
Among the London market’s smaller companies, Kenmare Resources drew attention after announcing it had received a revised takeover proposal from Iluka Resources that valued the miner at 6.8p a share, more than double Wednesday’s close of 3.1p. Still, given their are a number of preconditions attached to the approach, there was scepticism about whether a deal would go through and Kenmare shares closed well below the proposed offer price at 3¾p, up 0.65p on the day,
Optare was also in focus after the bus maker said it would cancel its Aim listing, sending its shares plunging 0.1p – 62.5pc – to 0.06p. The company, which is 75pc owned by Indian business Ashok Leyland, said it was not receiving many of the benefits associated with membership of the junior market.
Finally, in Dublin, paper and packaging giant Smurfit Kappa climbed 65½ cents to €27.35½ amid renewed hopes it will receive a bid from American rival International Paper. Traders were excited by comments from Mark Sutton, the boss of the US company, who said it remained on the hunt for deals.