July 23, 2020 / 8:47 AM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 2-Earnings boost keeps UK stocks barely above red as virus concerns rage

* Unilever hits over 5-month high as sales fall less than feared

* G4S gains on beating first-half operating profit estimates

* Weak Wall St, U.S. jobs data spurs late-session losses (Updates to close)

By Sagarika Jaisinghani and Ambar Warrick

July 23 (Reuters) - British stocks ended well off session highs on Thursday, barely staying positive as optimism over corporate earnings was offset by a discouraging U.S. jobs report and rising COVID-19 cases.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index ended up 0.1% and was kept above negative territory by a 7.9% jump in anglo-Dutch consumer behemoth Unilever, after its second-quarter sales fell much less than expected.

Software maker Sage Group PLC and miner Polymetal International PLC were among the best performing blue-chip stocks after they both posted stronger earnings.

The mid-cap FTSE 250 rose 0.1%, boosted by security contractor G4S after it reported a higher-than-expected first-half operating profit.

Russian gold miner Petropavlovsk PLC topped the midcap index after marking strong production over the first half.

"Business resilience is a much sought-after attribute in the current economic climate and Unilever has certainly got the right ingredients," said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

Most other British stocks trended lower as global novel coronavirus cases continued to rise. A bulk of losses for the day came after a weak open on Wall Street, in the wake of data suggesting a recovery in the U.S. labour market was stalling.

Financials and utilities weighed the most on the FTSE 100, while the midcap index was bogged down by consumer discretionary stocks.

"...with high uncertainty with the direction of the coronavirus, businesses will likely struggle to justify hirings," Edward Moya, Senior Market Analyst at OANDA, New York, wrote in a note.

A raft of global stimulus, improving economic data and hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine have put UK stock indexes on track for their fourth straight month of gains, but analysts remain wary of Sino-U.S. tensions and increased coronavirus cases stymieing further gains.

Asian equity markets were weaker earlier in the day following Washington's order to Beijing to close its consulate in Houston, Texas amid accusations of spying. (Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta/ ubhranshu Sahu)

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