London Report: Ukraine fears prompt return to defensives

A  RISE in food and retail stocks, seen as “defensive” plays with investors worried by tensions in Ukraine, enabled Britain’s top equity index to inch higher yesterday.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index closed up by 0.3 per cent, or 22.06 points, at 6,583.76 points. Trading volumes came in at around 1.1 times above the index’s 3-month daily average.

The FTSE erased its earlier losses after the US stock market rose following better-than-expected quarterly net profits at Wall Street bank Citigroup.

However, investors’ lingering nerves over the situation in Ukraine were reflected in the fact that retail and food stocks – often used as “defensive” stock market plays in an uncertain environment – were the best performers.

Supermarket retailer Sainsbury rose 5.5 per cent to top the FTSE’s leaderboard of best-performing stocks, while Sainsbury’s rival Tesco also progressed by around three per cent.

“It’s understandable that people are going for defensive stocks today, given the worries that the market could fall further in the near term,” said Cavendish Asset Management fund manager Paul Mumford.

Ukraine’s President has threatened military action after pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in the east ignored an ultimatum to leave.

The FTSE rose 14.4 per cent in 2013 and reached a peak of 6,867.42 points in late January this year, its highest level since early 2000.

However, concerns about Ukraine and other emerging markets have since knocked the market off those levels and the FTSE is now down around two per cent since the start of 2014.

Toby Campbell-Gray, head of trading at Tavira Securities, said the FTSE could trade sideways over the next three months.

But Darren Easton, director of trading at Logic Investments, was more optimistic. Easton had bought small positions in the FTSE at the 6,560-6,570 point level and expected that decent company results later in April and May could give the market a lift.

“We’re long-term bulls for the market. We’re speculating that the earnings figures won’t be too bad,” he said.

Stocks were also up on most other European bourses. In France the Cac index climbed 0.43 per cent yesterday, while Germany’s Dax was up 0.26 per cent at close. Italy’s FTSE MIB rose 0.55 per cent, although in Spain the Ibex edged down 0.17 per cent.