* FTSE 100 up 0.5 pct
* Financials, energy drive gains
* Sainsbury, Morrison down after poor sales
* South Africa exposed stocks recover
* Sophos hits all-time high after strong update (Adds closing prices)
By Helen Reid
LONDON, April 4 (Reuters) - British shares outperformed European peers on Tuesday, helped by the energy and industrials sectors, while supermarket firms Sainsbury and Morrison fell on poor sales data.
The FTSE 100 ended up 0.5 percent, outperforming the more hesitant Europe-wide STOXX 600 index, which inched up 0.2 percent.
The British index was little changed after PMI data showed British construction growth slowed in March.
Precious metal miners Randgold Resources and Fresnillo were among the top gainers, up 1.6 to 2.8 percent, as gold prices hit a one-month high.
Distributor and outsourcer Bunzl rose 1.2 percent after it said it bought two safety workwear businesses: ML Kishigo in the United States and Neri in Italy.
“Two further bolt-on deals should enhance EPS by c.1% and evidence that conversion of the M&A pipeline is not slowing,” said Jefferies analysts in a note.
Supermarkets Morrison and Sainsbury fell 2.8 percent and 2.2 percent respectively after Kantar Worldpanel data showed their sales struggled in the first quarter while discount competitors Aldi and Lidl performed strongly.
South Africa exposed stocks Investec and Old Mutual rose 0.6 percent and 0.1 percent respectively, recovering from earlier losses due to credit ratings agency S&P’s downgrade of the African country to sub-investment grade.
“It’s not a huge surprise South Africa has lost its investment-grade credit rating, so markets will likely have an initial reprice in terms of corporate exposure, but it would require further economic changes to drive a more prolonged sell-off,” said Ed Park, investment director at Brooks Macdonald.
GKN, which makes engines and components for cars, was down 2 percent, tracking Europe-wide losses in the auto sector, fell 1 percent.
Among mid-caps, meanwhile, valve maker Rotork was up 4.4 percent and set for its best day in four months.
JP Morgan upgraded the firm, which is exposed to a recovery in oil and gas markets, to ‘overweight’, saying its earnings power had increased.
“The group remains well positioned to benefit from the recovery, and growth opportunities exist outside of just oil & gas capex,” the bank said.
Sophos hit an all-time high, up 11.4 percent after the IT security firm reported billings ahead of consensus.
Nanoco Group fell 12.5 percent in heavy volumes after the maker of quantum dots - semiconductor nanocrystals used in displays - said sales did not materialise in the second half, and cut its full year expectations. (Reporting by Helen Reid; Additional reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Andrew Bolton)