The FTSE 100 index was down 0.1 per cent, or 5.83 points, at 6,538.45 by the close, nearing its lowest since mid-December. It has suffered in recent sessions from a sell-off in emerging markets that continued yesterday.
Shares in Diageo dropped 4.6 per cent, taking the most points off the FTSE. The world’s biggest distilled-spirits company said net sales growth slowed because of weakness in China, Thailand and Nigeria. It blamed problems in markets such as Turkey and Russia for similar struggles last October. “Diageo will be very disappointed with Asian sales, as they were looking to tap into demand from those growing markets for the more chic spirits,” said Alastair McCaig, an analyst at IG.
Peer SABMiller fell 1.6 per cent, and other consumer staple stocks dropped on fears that emerging--market turmoil, which hit earnings in summer 2013, would again erode their results.
Social unrest and currency problems in emerging markets such as Thailand, Turkey and Argentina have knocked back global equities this week, accentuated by the US Federal Reserve’s decision to trim its stimulus programme further.
“Emerging markets are a concern, certainly in the short term. We’ve been down this road before, however, and there won’t be as big a reaction as the global economy is in a good enough shape this time around to take us out of the mire,” said Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor. “Companies that do have big exposure to emerging markets, such as Diageo, will be impacted, but as a company it is well placed to get through it.”
Despite the concern over emerging markets, many investors still expect the FTSE to hit a record 7,000 points in the first quarter, helped by signs of a gradual rebound in the British and world economies. Among top gainers were BSkyB and Royal Dutch Shell after they delivered reassuring earnings reports, in contrast to Diageo. Shell’s report included steps to improve returns after a profit warning two weeks ago knocked its stock price.
So far this earnings season, 87 per cent of FTSE 100 firms who have reported results have met or beaten expectations, although some reports had been preceded by profit warnings.