U.K. stocks were little changed near a five-year high as Vodafone Group Plc rallied, offsetting a report that showed U.S. factory orders fell in January.
Vodafone jumped the most in four years as people familiar with the matter said Verizon Communications Inc. is seeking to resolve its relationship with the carrier. Admiral Group Plc climbed to a 17-month high after posting full-year profit that beat analysts’ estimates. Associated British Foods Plc slipped 1.1 percent after Exane BNP Paribas downgraded the shares.
The FTSE 100 Index retreated 4.31 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,427.64 at the close in London. Shares dropped in the last half an hour of trading, paring an earlier advance of as much as 0.5 percent. The equity benchmark has still rallied 9 percent this year, and yesterday jumped to the highest level since January 2008 on optimism central banks around the world will continue with stimulus measures.
The broader FTSE All-Share Index rose less than 0.1 percent today, while Ireland’s ISEQ Index slid 1.5 percent. The volume of shares changing hands in companies on the FTSE 100 was 39 percent greater than the average of the past 30 days, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.
Rio Tinto Group, BHP Billiton Ltd., Shire Plc, CRH Plc and TUI Travel Plc are trading without the rights to dividend today.
Orders to U.S. factories fell in January, weighed down by a slump in demand for military hardware and commercial aircraft.
Bookings dropped 2 percent after a revised 1.3 percent increase in December, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Economists projected a 2.2 percent decline, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey.
In the U.S., companies added 198,000 workers in February, according to a private report based on payrolls. The increase in employment followed a revised 215,000 gain the prior month, figures from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed today. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 170,000.
Vodafone surged 6.8 percent to 180 pence, the most since February 2009. The U.K. mobile operator and Verizon have weighed options that range from ending their wireless venture to a full merger of the two companies, according to people familiar with the matter.
The two phone companies have discussed a range of options, including the idea of Verizon acquiring 100 percent of their U.S. wireless partnership, the people said. Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in the venture, called Verizon Wireless, could fetch $115 billion, according to analysts.
Admiral advanced 5.3 percent to 1,334 pence, its highest price since September 2011, as the U.K. motor insurer said 2012 pretax profit climbed 15 percent to 345 million pounds ($522 million). That beat the 331.7 million-pound average estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Melrose Industries Plc climbed 2.7 percent to 267.1 pence after saying it’s confident about the outlook for 2013. The owner of Brush Turbogenerators reported full-year pretax profit of 214.3 million pounds, exceeding the average analyst estimate of 197 million pounds in a Bloomberg survey.
Legal & General Group Plc rose 2 percent to 166 pence after the biggest manager of U.K. pension assets raised its dividend by 20 percent. The full-year payout will be 7.65 pence a share, the London-based insurer said today in a statement, beating the 7.43 pence average estimate of 21 analysts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
AB Foods, which owns the Primark discount-clothing chain, fell 21 pence to 1,845 pence. Exane lowered its recommendation on the shares to underperform, the equivalent of sell, from neutral, saying the stock’s strong rally warrants some consolidation. AB Foods has surged 18 percent so far this year and closed yesterday at the highest level since at least 1986.