Britain's top share index was steady Wednesday, with investors keeping largely to the sidelines as the prospects for a comprehensive deal to tackle the euro zone debt crisis at a summit looked slim.

An announcement is expected after the European Union summit, although deep disagreements remain on critical aspects of the potential plan.

Impasse is my expectation. I just can't see how European leaders can agree on a plan this quickly, with so many big issues and personalities involved even if we do get some announcement, said a London-based trader.

The UK's benchmark index <.FTSE> edged up 1.74 points to 5,527.28 by 12:07 p.m., with the FTSE 100 trading just 20 percent of its average 90-day volume.

No-one's wanting to do anything, volumes are dire, said another trader, as fund managers kept their powder dry ahead of any announcement out of Europe, with possible press conferences due from around 2000 GMT.

Investors sought shelter in defensive stocks and safe-haven assets such as gold, in case an agreement in Europe could not be reached, and with the FTSE 100 having gained 12 percent in the last two weeks.

British American Tobacco rose 1.1 percent as the world's second-biggest cigarette maker reported sales increased by 7 percent in the first nine months of the year, and investors sought its defensive qualities.

BAT's Q3 update reads as reassuring to us and testifies to the company's continued resilience and status as a defensive port in a storm, Investec said in a note.

Peer Imperial Tobacco IMT.L gained too, up 1.8 percent.

Drugmaker Shire added 1.8 percent as Societe Generale upgraded it to buy from hold on the basis of upcoming launches and its defensive growth qualities.

Peer GlaxoSmithKline was flat as it reported marginally lower-than-expected earnings but raised its interim dividend and said it was increasing buyback expectations.

AstraZeneca reports Thursday and Shire's results are expected Friday.

Mid-cap Hikma climbed 6.3 percent with traders citing an upgrade by Morgan Stanley to overweight from equalweight helping the shares higher.

Fresnillo and Randgold rose as much as 2.6 percent as investors bought the equities as a proxy for gold, which has gained over the last four trading days as demand for assets offering protection against disappointment from Europe has risen.


While most investors concentrated on the euro zone, data showed Britain was continuing to struggle its way out of recession, hurt by the debt crisis.

British factory orders fell at their fastest pace in a year in October and firms expected to cut output as worries about the

crisis weighed on sentiment.

Broker recommendations had a significant impact on stock moves as investors sought legitimate reasons to trade ahead of any announcement from Europe.

Next slipped 2.1 percent as Deutsche Bank downgraded the retailer to hold from buy on valuation grounds, while retaining its 2,780 pence target.

Marks and Spencer fell 1.1 percent as Nomura cut earnings forecasts, saying a disappointing first half is principally a function of a greater-than-expected squeeze on consumer spending power and near-term operational inflexibility.

British consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser shed 2.2 percent as ING cut it to hold from buy after warning of slower growth Tuesday.

Smiths Group and Whitbread were among the heaviest fallers after losing their dividend attractions, combining to take 0.5 point off the index

The FTSE gained some support as Wall Street futures pointed to a firmer open ahead of September U.S. durable goods orders due at 1:30 p.m., and September new home sales due at 3:00 p.m.