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* FTSE 100 up 0.15 pct, helped by defensive stocks
* Miners fall as trade war worries hit metal prices
* Upgrade boosts AB Foods; Aviva down after mixed update
MILAN, March 8 (Reuters) - The UK’s top share index inched up in choppy trading on Thursday as falling metal prices hit heavyweight commodity stocks, although gains in defensive shares and an upgrade to AB Foods provided support.
Big mining stocks BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Antofagasta were among the top fallers after metals prices lost ground as U.S. trade tensions overshadowed strong February export data from the world’s second largest economy, China.
“This morning’s Chinese trade data are only likely to reinforce the U.S. administration’s perception of unfair trade,” CMC Markets chief market analyst Michael Hewson said in a note.
Losses in mining stocks were offset by gains in drugmakers and consumer companies as investors sought refuge in defensive stocks before U.S. President Donald Trump details his tariff plans, expected on Thursday or Friday.
The FTSE moved in and out of positive territory and was up 0.15 percent by 0948 GMT. The index is down nearly 7 percent year to date, making it one of the worst performers among European indexes.
AB Foods led gainers on the FTSE on Thursday, up 1.7 percent following an upgrade to ‘buy’ from Goldman Sachs on expectations a weak dollar would underpin its profit recovery.
Rolls Royce built on Wednesday’s rally after UBS raised its price target on the stock. The engine maker rose more than 11 percent in the previous session after its turnaround plan boosted profit by more than expected.
A big mover was mid cap Countrywide after a disappointing update.
Its shares tumbled 12 percent as Britain’s largest estate agency scrapped its dividend after poor performance in its main sales and lettings business drove full-year core earnings down 22.5 percent.
Aviva fell 1.6 percent. The insurer reported a 2 percent rise in operating profit and said it planned to return 500 million pounds to shareholders. KBW analysts described the results as a “mixed bag”.
Still in earnings, pizza delivery firm Domino’s Pizza rose 2 percent following a better-than-expected 10.2 percent rise in its full year pretax profit.
Soft drinks company Britvic rose 6 pct after Morgan Stanley upgraded it to ‘overweight’, saying the price offers an attractive entry point. (Reporting by Danilo Masoni Editing by Catherine Evans)