UPDATE 1-FTSE rally stalls, robust profit lifts Sports Direct
* FTSE 100 trades flat * Index range-bound, capped around 6,800 -analysts * Sports Direct gains on strong Christmas profits * Morrison buoyed by buyout speculation By Tricia Wright LONDON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Britain's top shares steadied on Wednesday as analysts bet the strong rally that followed a slump in emerging markets has run out of steam, though Sports Direct gained on robust profits. The FTSE 100 closed up 0.28 points - flat in percentage terms - at 6,796.71 points. It hit 6,810.48, its highest since late January, earlier in the day. The weakness followed a rally of around 6 percent since early February. Analysts reckoned on the index levelling off, around 1 percent shy of a peak hit in late January, before political and economic concerns in emerging markets took their toll on equities. It has been trapped in a range between around 6,400 to 6,800 since late October. "I don't think the traction is there to really push us back to the highs that we saw earlier this year," CMC Markets senior market analyst Michael Hewson said. "It's going to be very difficult to break us out of that range." Britain's biggest sporting goods retailer Sports Direct bucked the weaker trend, up 7.1 percent in brisk trade after unveiling a 14.6 percent rise in profit in its Christmas quarter and saying it was confident of hitting its full-year target. "We maintain our view that Sports Direct is well positioned to drive long-term growth both in the UK and overseas," analysts at Liberum wrote in a note, keeping their "buy" rating on the stock. Trading volume in Sports Direct stood at nearly three times its 90-day daily average, against the UK benchmark on about 1-1/4 times. Supermarket chain Wm Morrison was another good gainer, ahead 4.9 percent, supported by speculation the business could be taken private. Bankers are working on debt financing packages of around 5 billion pounds ($8.4 billion) to back a potential sale of Morrison to private equity funds, banking sources said. Morrison, which is 9.5 percent owned by the founding family, has contacted buyout firms to gauge their interest in taking the business private after a fall in Christmas sales, Bloomberg reported last week. Firms trading without the attraction of their latest dividend knocked a hefty 14 points off the index - namely AstraZeneca, Barclays, Carnival, GlaxoSmithKline and Reckitt Benckiser.
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