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FTSE rocked as mining shares fall on commodity price drop

BRITAIN’S top shares shed 0.7 per cent yesterday, tracking early falls on Wall Street and pressured by weaker miners and energy issues as commodity prices fell with a firmer dollar after dull data.

At the close, the FTSE 100 was 36.98 points lower at 5,315.09, having hit a one-month high earlier in the session.

US blue chips were 0.6 per cent lower by London’s close after US consumer confidence fell this month to its lowest level in 10 months.

Miners, good gainers on Monday, fell back with metal prices as the dollar moved higher. Eurasian Natural Resources, Xstrata, Fresnillo, Lonmin, and Antofagasta shed 2.8 to 3.8 per cent.

Energy stocks were also a drag on the blue chip index as crude fell back to $79 a barrel. BG Group, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Cairn Energy and Tullow Oil lost 1.0 to 3.1 per cent.

Investors were cautious ahead of Congressional testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke later this week, with an explanation wanted after last week’s surprise hike in the rate the Fed charges banks for emergency loans.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said yesterday that risks to the bank’s central view of a gradual recovery remained to the downside and further quantitative easing may be needed.

Sterling fell broadly after the comments of King and other MPC members to the UK Treasury’s Select Committee.

Also emphasising the negative global economic backdrop, German business sentiment, measured by the Ifo think-tank, fell for the first time in almost a year in February.

“It seems that the markets are currently working in a ‘risk on, risk off’ mode. Today’s IFO and consumer confidence figures have definitely flicked the switch back to risk off for the short term, but such is the fickle nature of the markets at the moment that it surely won’t be long till we switch back again,” said James Hughes, market analyst at bettors CMC Markets.

Banks were mixed overall but lower as a sector with Barclays and Standard Chartered losing 1.4 and 0.2 per cent, respectively, but HSBC adding 0.3 per cent.

Royal Bank of Scotland was up 0.6 per cent ahead of full-year results on Thursday, and Lloyds Banking Group gained 0.1 per cent ahead of its full-year numbers on Friday.

Lloyds’ chief executive Eric Daniels has waived his right to a 2009 annual bonus of more than £2m, bowing to growing pressure on bank bosses.

Drugs issues were in demand, wanted for their defensive attractions. AstraZeneca added 0.3 per cent after it upped its 2010 earnings estimate after settling a tax dispute with Britain for $780m.

Peer GlaxoSmithKline rallied 0.4 per cent higher, having fallen sharply on Monday due to diabetes drug concerns.

Other defensively-perceived stocks were also higher led by support services firms, with Serco ahead 1.3 per cent, Capita and G4S both up 1.0 per cent.

Among indivual movers, Wolseley was easily the top FTSE 100 gainer, jumping 12.5 per cent and reaching its highest level in over a year, after the building materials supplier issued a surprise, upbeat trading statement.

Testing equipment firm Intertek Group added 5.8 per cent as rumours that Swiss peer SGS could look to bid for the firm were revived ahead of Intertek’s upcoming full-year results.