The FTSE continued its journey lower today, as investors grew increasingly concerned over events in Cyprus and the Eurozone generally.
Manufacturing data from the region showed its fastest rate of contraction in three months, dashing hopes of an economic recovery.
Things were looking up closer to home though, with UK February sales coming in above expectations.
In the US initial weekly unemployment claims dropped by 10,000 to 332,000 (Consensus: 343,000), to near a five-year low. Those better-than-expected figures, and several other upbeat reports, have continued the recent trend of positive US economic data. In turn, that may explain why Societe General has changed its end-year forecast for the price of gold to $1,400 per ounce, compared to $1,613 at today's opening.
Data shows rise in February retail sales
Retail sales rose more than expected in February, boosted by strong demand for tablet devices, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed.
Total sales increased by 2.1% last month, compared with -0.7% in January, beating the 0.4% consensus, while core sales, excluding fuel, increased by 1.9% when compared to January, and by 3.3% on the year.
Nominal sales were also strong, rising by 1.8% on the previous month, while retail sales inflation remained weak at 0.7% year-on-year.
Economists at Barclays Research highlighted the fact that the data showed inflation rising further and earnings growth falling unexpectedly, "suggesting the squeeze in real household incomes is set to continue and the outlook for retailing remains challenging".
Events in Cyprus weigh heavy
Troubled economy Cyprus must find a way to raise £5.8bn to qualify for financing support from the European Union.
A proposal for a levy on bank deposits was thrown out and now leaders are searching for an alternative including turning to Russia for aid.
The European Central Bank has warned that it would cut off emergency liquidity for Cypriot banks on Monday unless a deal was reached to shore up the country's ailing banks.
Eurozone finance ministers will hold a conference call at 19:00 local time to discuss the situation, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem announced.
Elsewhere, Eurozone manufacturing contracted in March at the fastest rate in three months, data showed, dashing hopes of an economic recovery.
A composite index based on a survey of purchasing managers from both industries fell to 46.5 from 47.9 in February, according to Markit Economics.
In parallel, the service sector gauge dropped to 46.5 from 47.9 (Consensus: 48.2).
Also worth mentioning are the very weak readings seen in the numbers for the German services sector.
Next rises on profit increase
UK retailer Next leapt into the top spot after posting a rise in full year profits, boosted by growth in online sales and business expansion.
Pre-tax profits climbed by 9.0% to £621.6m for the year to the end of January 2013, compared to £570.3m a year earlier.
AstraZeneca was up after making three announcements, one outling its return to growth strategy, one regarding a deal to develop RNA therapeutics, and a third unveiling plans to create an integrated translational research centre for cardiovascular and metabolic disease and regenerative medicine at medical university Karolinska Institutet's site in Stockholm.
UK's largest water company United Utilities was also higher after saying its expects to report an increase in annual profits despite rises in depreciation and power. Ahead of results for the year ending March 31st 2013, the firm said it was trading in line with expectations as it "continues to drive improvements in customer service and operational effectiveness".
ENRC fell into the bottom spot after Deutsche Bank reduced its target price from 550p to 539p, one day after the company labelled 2012 as a 'challenging year' as a swing into the red led to the miner scrapping its final dividend.
Brewin Dolphin Holdings was in the top spot after appointing former Morgan Stanley boss David Nicol as Chief Executive Officer after Jamie Matheson resigns as Executive Chairman. Matheson, who is stepping down after eight years, will work with Nicol and the management team to ensure a smooth transition to the new leadership, the group said.
Premier Farnell was higher despite posting a three per cent decline in fourth quarter sales. Adjusted pre-tax profit fell 7.9% to £18.7m, while adjusted earnings per share declined 10% to 3.6p. It also reported that 2013 had got off to a positive start.
Vesuvius fell after it said its trading in 2012 was hurt by a weaker steel and foundry market in the second half. The group, which makes ceramic moulds and linings for steelmakers and foundries, saw revenues fall by 8.1% year-on-year to £1.5m and trading profit plunge 27.5% to £133m.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Next (NXT) 4,314.00p +4.03%
AstraZeneca (AZN) 3,133.00p +3.06%
Randgold Resources Ltd. (RRS) 5,635.00p +2.55%
United Utilities Group (UU.) 709.00p +1.94%
Tullow Oil (TLW) 1,255.00p +1.37%
TUI Travel (TT.) 314.10p +1.36%
Resolution Ltd. (RSL) 272.20p +0.96%
Amec (AMEC) 1,064.00p +0.95%
Polymetal International (POLY) 876.00p +0.69%
Severn Trent (SVT) 1,680.00p +0.54%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. (ENRC) 294.30p -4.11%
ARM Holdings (ARM) 878.50p -3.09%
Smiths Group (SMIN) 1,284.00p -2.73%
Experian (EXPN) 1,130.00p -2.67%
Burberry Group (BRBY) 1,387.00p -2.67%
Prudential (PRU) 1,080.00p -2.62%
Intertek Group (ITRK) 3,345.00p -2.59%
Schroders (SDR) 2,081.00p -2.57%
Babcock International Group (BAB) 1,073.00p -2.45%
BT Group (BT.A) 266.30p -2.35%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Brewin Dolphin Holdings (BRW) 206.50p +5.84%
Thomas Cook Group (TCG) 111.90p +4.97%
QinetiQ Group (QQ.) 203.70p +4.14%
Ophir Energy (OPHR) 465.10p +3.70%
Barr (A.G.) (BAG) 539.50p +3.65%
Petra Diamonds Ltd.(DI) (PDL) 127.30p +3.58%
PayPoint (PAY) 888.50p +3.43%
Euromoney Institutional Investor (ERM) 930.00p +3.16%
IP Group (IPO) 145.00p +3.13%
SIG (SHI) 162.50p +3.11%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Balfour Beatty (BBY) 247.70p -4.33%
SDL (SDL) 441.60p -4.00%
Michael Page International (MPI) 427.80p -3.71%
Fenner (FENR) 396.10p -3.60%
Vesuvius (VSVS) 373.60p -3.44%
Bumi (BUMI) 294.60p -3.00%
Hays (HAS) 95.00p -2.96%
Elementis (ELM) 266.90p -2.95%
SVG Capital (SVI) 400.00p -2.79%
Imagination Technologies Group (IMG) 521.50p -2.71%