M&S success fails to stop a drop in the FTSE 100 index

BRITAIN’S top share index closed lower yesterday, as weaker metals prices hurt mining stocks, while Marks & Spencer rose as investors warmed to a trading update from the retailer.

The FTSE 100 closed 19.26 points, or 0.3 per cent, lower at 5,662.13, after rising 0.8 per cent on Wednesday to a five-month closing high.

Mining stocks exerted the most downward pressure on the index, retreating after hefty gains in the previous session, tracking a sharp decline in key base metals prices. Copper, aluminium and nickel prices fell 1.4 to 3.2 per cent as the dollar recovered.

On the upside, Marks & Spencer recovered after falls earlier in the session, adding 4.9 per cent after beating forecasts for second-quarter sales.

But more generally analysts said market moves were limited ahead of the US September jobs report due today.

Data yesterday showed US claims for unemployment benefits fell to a near three-month low last week, pointing to some improvement in the troubled labour market.

“The weekly (jobless claims) figures we had out were reasonably well received, unlike the ADP (jobs report) the day before and, if anything, that just leaves us that little bit more in anticipation of tomorrow’s (non-farm payrolls) figures,” Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Keith Bowman said.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee held its key interest rate at 0.5 per cent and left its total £200bn of quantitative easing purchases unchanged, as widely expected.

Meanwhile European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said after the ECB kept rates on hold at one per cent that sudden swings in foreign exchange rates posed a threat to economic growth.

Risk-sensitive banks were a big drag on the index as investors rotated out of the sector after buying in recent sessions.

Sticking with financials, Man Group was the top blue-chip performer, jumping 5.1 per cent, with traders citing talk of bid interest from a US bank.

Luxury goods firm Burberry was another good gainer, adding 2.5 per cent after an upbeat trading update from mid-cap peer Mulberry, which closed up 6.9 per cent on the AIM.

Defensive pharmaceuticals stocks were higher with AstraZeneca up 1.3 per cent and GlaxoSmithKline 1.9 per cent firmer.

“Despite a muted day today, global stock markets are still seem well underpinned after this week’s strong rises and many in London are still looking for the FTSE to move above the year highs just above 5,800,” said Ben Critchley, a sales trader at IG Index.

Cairn Energy fell 4.2 per cent as concerns arose about potential delays to Vedanta’s proposed deal to buy a chunk of Cairn India.