Weak Chinese data hits FTSE mining stocks - London Report

THE UK’s top equity index slipped from record highs yesterday as surprisingly weak data from China weighed on mining stocks, with investors also growing cautious before next month’s General Election.

The FTSE 100 index, which touched a record high of 7,095.36 points on Friday, retreated 25.47 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 7,064.30 points by the close. The FTSE remains up nearly eight per cent since the start of 2015.

Miners such as BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Rio Tinto were among the worst performers.

China’s exports, which had been expected to rise 12 per cent, dropped 15 per cent in March. Chinese imports saw the biggest decline since the global financial crisis in 2009, heightening concern that economic growth is slowing.

Citigroup forecast that slowing demand from China would hurt iron ore prices, which in turn would put pressure on UK mining stocks.

“You’ve had the downgrade from Citi on the miners, which along with the data from China hasn’t helped that sector,” said Manoj Ladwa, head of trading at TJM Partners. “After making all- time highs, it’s natural to have a small pullback.”

Caution was also growing before the General Election on 7 May, with conflicting polls showing both David Cameron’s Conservative party and the Labour party in the lead since the weekend. A Labour-led government would see more regulation of utilities and banks, while the Conservatives have promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

“We are using this as an opportunity to decrease our UK holdings,” said Atif Latif, director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers. “(We) see severe downside risk into the election for the UK market... with the market being again at a new high, we see greater downside risk at this juncture and look to lower entry levels for UK equity prices.”

Tesco dropped 2.7 per cent after a report in the Daily Telegraph said the supermarket operator faces a bill of £3bn pounds ($4.4bn) from its failing stores when it reports results next week, citing estimates by Barclays.

Among gainers, insurer Aviva rose 1.2 per cent after both Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan reinstated their coverage of the stock with “overweight” ratings.