(Alliance News) - Stock prices in London were mostly in the red at midday Friday, as the UK election debate heats up and retail sales come in below expectations.

The FTSE 100 index was down 34.66 points, 0.4%, at 8,304.57. The FTSE 250 was down 9.28 points at 20,622.02, and the AIM All-Share was up 0.73 of a point, 0.1%, at 805.75.

The Cboe UK 100 was down 0.5% at 828.67, the Cboe UK 250 was down 0.2% at 18,055.60, and the Cboe Small Companies was down 0.3% at 16,507.76.

In European equities on Friday, the CAC 40 in Paris was down 0.2%, while the DAX 40 in Frankfurt was down 0.4%.

UK retail sales fell in April, as miserable weather kept shoppers at home, according to a first estimate.

Retail sales fell by 2.7% in April from a year prior, the Office for National Statistics said. Sales had increased by 0.4% on-year in March, being revised up from being flat previously.

According to FXStreet, retail sales were expected to fall by just 0.2% annually in April.

"Weak retail figures shouldn't have surprised given the miserable weather we've had for much of 2024. No-one wants to go to the shops if it is pouring with rain and messages from many of the quoted retailers in recent months have implied that life is particularly tough for them, not helped by consumers still feeling the pressure of high interest rates," said AJ Bell's Russ Mould.

The retail sales data will be a blow to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who began his election campaign on Wednesday.

The Tory and Labour parties clashed on energy policy for the UK as the general election campaign focused on the prospect of cheaper household bills.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is using a visit to Scotland to promote his plan for a publicly-owned green electricity generator, which he said would cut bills and boost energy security.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho set out plans for consumer-friendly changes and accused Labour of not being "honest about the costs" that their plans for net zero power would involve.

The row came as regulator Ofgem early Friday set out the latest level for the energy price cap on average bills.

The watchdog said the average household energy bill will drop by around 7% from July 1, when the latest change to the price cap takes effect. This means the average UK household will pay GBP122 less per year.

The pound was quoted at USD1.2721 at midday on Friday in London, higher compared to USD1.2710 at the equities close on Thursday. The euro stood at USD1.0842, higher against USD1.0830. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY156.96, lower compared to JPY157.13.

In the FTSE 100, National Grid was down 9.7%, after losing 12% on Thursday.

National Grid launched a GBP7.0 billion rights issue to support plans for GBP60 billion of investment in UK and US energy infrastructure.

The London-based multinational electricity and gas utility said the investment from financial 2025 to 2029 will be nearly double that of the previous five-year period and will deliver a "significant step-change" in critical energy infrastructure in the UK and US.

Intertek rose 1.5%.

In a trading update for the four months to April, the London-based consumer product testing and certification agency said revenue rose 7.5% at constant currency to GBP1.08 billion, or 2.0% at actual rates.

In the first four months of 2023, Intertek reported revenue of GBP1.06 billion, up 11% from GBP951.3 million a year earlier.

In the FTSE 250, John Wood rose 2.0%, after it said it rejected a third takeover approach from Dar Al-Handasah Consultants Shair & Partners, known as Sidara.

Sidara is a planning, design, engineering and project management firm, founded in Beirut, with more than 300 offices in 60 countries.

Wood, an Aberdeen, Scotland-based consulting and engineering for energy and materials sectors said the new cash offer of 220 pence per share continued to "fundamentally undervalue" the company and its future prospects.

Amongst London's small-caps, Avation rose 9.9%.

The aircraft leasing company said it expects to report a profit for the year ending June 30, which is significantly ahead of current market expectations.

Executive Chair Jeff Chatfield says: "The company is at a transition point in terms of improving shareholder returns alongside cash flow generation and growth. We are confident of improving returns to shareholders by carefully optimising the mix of sources of finance available to the company and are finding asset backed financiers to be extremely constructive."

On London's AIM, Genedrive was up 9.9%.

The pharmacogenetic testing company said that initial orders have been received for the Genedrive MT-RNR1 products from a further five UK hospitals in the Greater Manchester region. The total value of the orders is over GBP100,000.

Stocks in New York were called higher. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was called up 0.2%, and the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq Composite both up 0.3%.

Brent oil was quoted at USD80.70 a barrel at midday in London on Friday, down from USD81.58 late Thursday.

Gold was quoted at USD2,341.10 an ounce, up against USD2,340.90.

Still to come on Friday's economic calendar, there are US durable goods orders at 1330 BST.

By Sophie Rose, Alliance News senior reporter

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