Stocks extended losses by the end of trade on Tuesday as investors trimmed positions ahead of the much-anticipated Federal Reserve policy meeting tomorrow.
Weighing on markets were heavy falls in the banking sector, with Lloyds sinking after the government placed a 6% stake at a 3.1% discount to yesterday's closing price.
The FTSE 100 finished 52.69 points lower at 6,570.17, pulling back from Monday's close of 6,622.86 - that was the best close for the UK's benchmark index since August 2nd, when it finished the day at 6,647.87.
Over in Europe meanwhile, the STOXX Europe 600 retreated after closing at its highest level since June 2008, while the DAX 30 index in Germany pulled back from hitting a record high.
"The failure to break through yesterday's highs [...] suggests that investors are wary and less inclined to establish new long positions. The profit-taking that we are seeing is an attempt to drain what may be the final dregs of the rally," said Brenda Kelly, Senior Market Strategist at IG.
"Since markets are, for the most part, expecting a tapering decision, any delay could be construed as a lack of US Federal Reserve confidence in the US economic recovery and may add some volatility and downside risk for equities," she remarked.
The two-day Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting which concludes tomorrow afternoon will be one of the most closely-watched US policy decisions in recent years, given rising expectations that policymakers will begin to scale back quantitative easing.
The Fed is widely expected to start by tapering its monthly asset purchases by around $10-15bn from the current level of $85bn, with forecasts being pared slightly over the last month given recent mixed economic data as of late, including August's disappointing jobs report.
Just as important will be the new set of macroeconomic projections which the monetary authority will provide. These may help to cement expectations that policy rates are to stay low for quite some time yet.
Markets across the globe gained on Monday after the announcement by well-known hawk Larry Summers that he has dropped out of the race to take over Ben Bernanke's position as Fed Chairman when he steps down in January. Analysts believe that Summers would have tightened policy more aggressively than Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, who is now regarded as the firm favourite to succeed Bernanke.
Investors largely shrugged off improving economic data closer to home today: the ZEW survey of German economic sentiment jumped 7.6 points in September to 49.6, beating the consensus estimate of 46; while the annual rise in UK consumer prices eased from 2.8% to 2.7% in August, as expected.
FTSE 100: Lloyds falls as government begins stake sale
Banking group Lloyds was in the red after UK Financial Investments sold a 6% stake in the bank for £3.2bn, reducing its shareholding from about 38.7% to approximately 32.7%. The Treasury sold 4.3bn shares
at a price of 75p each.
Part-nationalised peer RBS was also lower after UBS downgraded the bank from 'buy' to 'neutral'. Analyst said they like the bank's improving fundamentals - "under a new 'business-focused' management team" - but reckon that the stock's valuation is up with events.
Barclays was also lower after it was reported yesterday that it is facing a £50m fine for allegedly breaching market listing rules over its capital raisings. The bank also said that its adjusted income for July and August was lower than in the same period of the previous year, resulting in a 5% year-on-year decline in adjusted income for the eight-month period to August 31st.
Temporary power and temperature control firm Aggreko was the standout faller on the FTSE 100 after Credit Suisse downgraded the stock from 'neutral' to 'underperform' and slashed its target price by 30% from 2,000p to 1,400p to reflect "more challenging trading conditions in the Power Projects division".
Mining group Glencore Xstrata was being weighed down by UBS, which lowered its rating from 'buy' to 'neutral', saying that a "challenging" price outlook will cap share-price performance. Sector peer Randgold, however, rose as gold prices
rebounded after hitting a five-week low the day before.
The decline in risk appetite today benefited defensive stocks such as utility groups Severn Trent and United Utilities, as well as consumer products firms Unilever and Diageo.
FTSE 250: Investec drops after disappointing update
Financial services firm Investec took a hit after saying that half-year results will be behind the prior year after the Australian business was negatively affected by significant strategic restructuring and the UK Specialist Banking business was hit by low levels of activity.
Travel stocks were performing well after upbeat comments on the UK bus and rail markets from JPMorgan Cazenove. The US bank raised its ratings for both Go-Ahead and Stagecoach from 'neutral' to 'overweight'.
Debenhams rose after saying it expects annual pre-tax profit in line with market forecasts on the back of growth in market share and like-for-like sales.
FTSE 100 - Risers
United Utilities Group (UU.) 703.00p +2.25%
Severn Trent (SVT) 1,792.00p +1.93%
Randgold Resources Ltd. (RRS) 4,545.00p +1.32%
Reed Elsevier (REL) 828.50p +1.16%
International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (CDI) (IAG) 328.10p +0.95%
Unilever (ULVR) 2,513.00p +0.84%
Shire Plc (SHP) 2,551.00p +0.71%
Schroders (SDR) 2,519.00p +0.68%
Diageo (DGE) 2,025.00p +0.62%
Amec (AMEC) 1,090.00p +0.55%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Aggreko (AGK) 1,580.00p -4.18%
Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY) 74.65p -3.50%
Standard Life (SL.) 343.90p -2.88%
Meggitt (MGGT) 549.50p -2.57%
IMI (IMI) 1,465.00p -2.27%
Glencore Xstrata (GLEN) 334.20p -2.25%
Vedanta Resources (VED) 1,158.00p -2.11%
Barclays (BARC) 299.00p -2.10%
Sage Group (SGE) 353.00p -2.05%
ARM Holdings (ARM) 953.50p -1.90%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Kazakhmys (KAZ) 300.20p +3.52%
Salamander Energy (SMDR) 128.60p +3.04%
Beazley (BEZ) 222.60p +2.87%
Ocado Group (OCDO) 387.00p +2.84%
Britvic (BVIC) 592.00p +2.60%
Go-Ahead Group (GOG) 1,601.00p +2.23%
Rank Group (RNK) 163.50p +2.19%
Templeton Emerging Markets Inv Trust (TEM) 554.00p +1.74%
Debenhams (DEB) 105.00p +1.74%
IG Group Holdings (IGG) 604.50p +1.68%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Vesuvius (VSVS) 464.20p -4.64%
Restaurant Group (RTN) 550.00p -3.93%
Moneysupermarket.com Group (MONY) 157.30p -3.79%
Home Retail Group (HOME) 168.70p -3.66%
Investec (INVP) 425.80p -3.64%
Spectris (SXS) 2,214.00p -3.61%
Domino Printing Sciences (DNO) 650.00p -3.49%
Centamin (DI) (CEY) 44.00p -3.45%
Hochschild Mining (HOC) 229.50p -3.33%
Cranswick (CWK) 1,152.00p -3.11%