* FTSE closes up 0.3 pct at 6,591.55 points
* FTSE 100 rises for fourth straight session
* Energy Secretary's comments hit utility sector
* Fall in utility shares prevents FTSE from bigger gains
* Barclays and AstraZeneca add most points to FTSE 100
By Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON, Feb 10 Fresh political pressure on
British utilities hit the sector's stocks on Monday, limiting
broader gains in the UK's top equity index although it rose for
the fourth straight session.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 index closed up by 0.3
percent, or 19.87 points, at 6,591.55 points.
Gains at British bank Barclays and drugmaker
AstraZeneca together added the most points to the FTSE,
enabling the index to shrug off the effects of a pullback in the
Barclays rose 1.2 percent as analysts welcomed its plans to
step up its cost-cutting programme after the bank published a
snapshot of its headline 2013 results, while AstraZeneca rose
1.4 percent after Morgan Stanley increased its price target on
However, a decline in major utility stocks prevented the
FTSE 100 from making even bigger gains.
The utility sector was hit after British Energy Secretary Ed
Davey wrote to regulators to say the profit margins of major
energy companies' gas supply units were too high.
Davey also said British Gas may have to be broken up and his
comments knocked shares in the sector, with British Gas owner
Centrica falling 1.7 percent while rival SSE
declined by 0.4 percent.
Utility stocks are often favoured by investors for their
solid dividend yields, but Cavendish Asset Management fund
manager Paul Mumford said political pressures on the sector were
turning him away from holding those stocks.
"I don't bother to hold them because you're up against all
these political headwinds," he said. "There are other areas of
the market where you don't have the same amount of regulatory
interference," added Mumford, who said his preferred UK equity
sectors include oil and gas, and property.
The FTSE 100 rose 14.4 percent in 2013 to post its best
annual gain since 2009, but the index has declined 2.3 percent
since the start of 2014 as global equity markets have fallen due
to concerns over a slump in emerging markets economies.
Despite this weak start many investors with a long-term view
expect the FTSE to rise slowly over the course of 2014, partly
helped by a gradual recovery in the British economy.
Mike Franklin, chief investment strategist at Beaufort
Securities, said the index could rise by around 5 percent over
the next two weeks to reach the 6,900 point level.
"The pace of returns may be a bit slower this year, but the
primary bull market is still intact," he said.