Britain's FTSE steadies near highs after mixed earnings

By Alistair Smout and Atul Prakash

LONDON, April 29 (Reuters) - Britain's top share index stayed within reach of all-time highs on Wednesday as traders digested mixed earnings news on a busy day of corporate updates.

Weak numbers from the likes of British American Tobacco were partly counteracted by a boost from better-than-expected results from Next and others.

BAT, the world's No. 2 cigarette maker, fell 1.6 percent after reporting a drop in revenue for the first quarter, hurt by the strength of the pound against various currencies and as more people cut back on smoking.

However, the market received support from some better-than-expected earnings. Next, Britain's second-biggest clothing retailer, rose 2.9 percent as it maintained its profit forecast after posting first-quarter sales slightly ahead of its own guidance.

"We have seen some mixed results today from UK companies, reinforcing our view that the earnings outlook for the United Kingdom is not as strong as it is for the euro zone, where the energy headwind is less significant and the currency tailwind is stronger," Robert Parkes, equity strategist, HSBC Global Research, said.

Miners also came under pressure, with Antofagasta, down 3.4 percent, leading the index lower after the Chilean miner cut its annual copper output forecast following a fall in first-quarter production.

Miners fell 1.7 percent, the biggest sectoral decliner. The FTSE 100 index was little changed at around 7,027 points by 1006 GMT. The index was 1.5 percent away from a record high of 7,122.74 posted on Monday.

Barclays also edged lower, down 0.6 percent to 259.75 pence as it set aside another 800 million pounds ($1.2 billion) to cover potential settlements for alleged foreign exchange manipulation, hitting profits and reflecting its struggle to put past problems behind it.

Traders said that the update otherwise bodes well for the future.

"Today's solid update owes much to the investment banking arm once again and has traders chatting of a share price above 300p this year," Accendo Markets senior trader Marc Kimsey said.

"In the near-term, provisions for another 800 million pounds will temper enthusiasm but in doing so create buying opportunities."

Traders said the UK stock market was likely to pause ahead of next week's general election, with a drop in British consumer confidence potentially working against Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of the vote. (Reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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