Disappointing corporate results crimped confidence on the outlook for risk-sensitive banks and miners, pushing Britain’s top share index lower by yesterday’s close.
Diageo shed 4.6 per cent as half-year results from the world’s biggest spirits group missed forecasts, prompting broker Espirito Santo to downgrade its rating to “hold”.
International Consolidated Airline Group was also sharply lower, off 3.3 per cent as peer Air France-KLM slid after warning it would miss a key profit target after being hit by a triple whammy of snow, strikes and security problems.
The FTSE 100 ended down 32.28 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 6020.01, extending Wednesday’s retreat after hitting its best closing level since May 2008 on Tuesday.
The index is still up 2 per cent in 2011 after a 9 per cent rise last year, and many analysts remain fairly upbeat about prospects for equities.
“There’s a bit of nervousness around now, but there are always going to be a couple of disappointments, but overall earnings have gone reasonably well, and there’s no reason for the market to be depressed for a long period of time,” said Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank.
There was little reaction to the expected decision by the Bank of England to leave interest rates unchanged following its latest monetary policy committee meeting.
Banks were the worst blue-chip performers, with HSBC down 1.1 percent, hit by a profits disappointment from Swiss peer Credit Suisse.
Renewed sovereign debt concerns also weighed on the lenders as Portugal’s government bond spreads widened.
Insurers retreated, too, with Prudential down 1.9 per cent, reversing gains made on Wednesday after a broker upgrade.
Miners extended Wednesday’s declines, reflecting weaker metals prices after China raised interest rates earlier in the week.
Rio Tinto shed 2.4 per cent despite announcing a doubling in its dividend payout and promising to return $5bn to shareholders by 2012.
Energy stocks recovered from lows as media reported that Egypt’s embattled president of 30 years might step down, helping to push crude higher. BP edged up 0.1 per cent.
On the upside, Smith & Nephew, Europe’s largest artificial knees and hips maker, rose 2.1 per cent after it posted a 9 per cent rise in fourth-quarter trading profit.
Advertising group WPP climbed 1.5 per cent to a nearly nine-year high, with traders citing a positive read-across from the results of French rival Publicis. And software maker Autonomy rose 2.2 per cent as UBS upgraded the stock to “buy”.
On the economic data front, British manufacturing output unexpectedly fell in December, but a surge in energy production meant overall industrial output rose as expected.