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* FTSE 100 flat
* Ocado surges over 40 pct
* Royal Mail falls 5 pct
* Gambling stocks hit by stake restriction
By Julien Ponthus
LONDON, May 17 (Reuters) - Strong oil prices lifted shares in UK majors and helped Britain’s FTSE stay afloat on Thursday while online grocery retailer Ocado hit a record high and was set for its biggest rise ever after signing a deal with U.S. grocer Kroger.
The FTSE 100 was flat at 0806 GMT, at 7,732 points still flirting with the record high it reached in mid-January.
Heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell and BP were up 0.7 percent and 0.3 percent respectively as oil prices hit their highest level since November 2014 on Thursday.
“Helping to keep the FTSE away from its 7800-target this Thursday was Thomas Cook and Royal Mail, neither stock able to justify their recent highs in the eyes of investors”, said Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at Spreadex.
Britain’s Royal Mail Plc fell 4.7 percent after it warned the decline in letter volumes may come in at the higher end of its forecast range while the British holiday company declined 3.1 percent after reporting first-half earnings.
The star performer of the session however was Ocado which posted its biggest rise ever, up 43.1 percent since it listed on the stock market in 2010 after it announced that U.S. retailer Kroger would use its technology.
“We think this is just about as positive a deal as could have been expected to have been announced by Ocado,” analysts at Barclays said, adding “the company now has an extremely credible partner in the largest grocery market in the world.”
Among smaller companies, Britain’s Mothercare was up about 25 percent after the struggling mother and baby products retailer said it would ask investors for 28 million pounds as part of a restructuring plan that would see a further 50 stores close.
Experian, the world’s biggest credit data company, added 3.5 percent after reporting a 7.5 percent rise in full-year revenue and said it expected 2018 to be another year of growth.
UK betting stocks were on the back foot after the UK government cut the top stake on betting terminals to 2 pounds.
Ladbrokes Coral-parent GVC, William Hill and Paddy Power Betfair which operate some of the 182,000 gaming machines in Britain were down 2.1 percent and 2.8 percent and 0.6 percent respectively. (Reporting by Julien Ponthus Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)