Markets were sharply lower on Wednesday morning as risk appetite was scaled back ahead of this evening's release of the minutes of the latest Federal Reserve policy meeting.
The FTSE 100 was trading as low as 6,400 today in London today; the last time it closed below this level was on July 5th when it finished the day at 6,375.52.
Minutes of the July 30-31st Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting aren't due out until after markets are closed this evening, but that hasn't stopped investors from trimming positions in anticipation.
With only two FOMC meetings left this year which will be followed by press conferences with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (September and December), the majority of analysts now seem convinced that the taper will begin in September given the recent improvement in US economic data and comments from some policymakers.
"The Fed have previously saved the big decisions for such meetings," pointed out Market Analyst Craig Erlam from Alpari.
UK data was in focus this morning with public-sector accounts excluding financial interventions showing a deficit of around £0.1bn in July, according to the Office for National Statistics, surprising the consensus who had estimated a surplus of £2.9bn. This was the first July since 2010 that the government has recorded a budget deficit as spending increased.
FTSE 100: Ex-div stocks provide a drag
A number of heavyweight stocks were weighing on markets this morning after going ex-dividend, including British American Tobacco, Capita, Hammerson, InterContinental Hotels, Prudential and Carnival.
A number of mining stocks were also lower this morning as risk appetite is scaled back. Fresnillo, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were all in the red. Glencore Xstrata however was bucking the trend, rebounding after some heavy losses the day before after the company disappointed with its first-half results.
Standard Life was leading the upside after receiving an upgrade by both Credit Suisse and Bank of America. The latter raised its rating from 'underperform' to 'neutral' after a recent drop in the share price, saying that the company "remains well placed for regulatory changes and its asset management business should continue to attract inflows".
Lloyds gained despite saying that it is to take a £330m loss on the disposal of its German life insurance business as it continues to downsize its international footprint. Banking peers Barclays, RBS and HSBC however were out of favour today.
FTSE 250: Hikma lifts guidance
Hikma Pharmaceuticals rose after saying it had made a strong start to its financial year with all of its businesses performing well as it raised its guidance to around 20% revenue growth for the year.
African Barrick Gold declined after revealing that its CEO Greg Hawkins has resigned with immediate effect to "pursue other opportunities". He will be replaced by industry veteran Bradley Gordon, the former frontman of Intrepid Mines.
Shares in sector peer Hochschild Mining also fell on after the precious metals producer suspended its interim dividend as first-half results were hit by falling commodity prices.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Standard Life (SL.) 349.20p +1.84%
Glencore Xstrata (GLEN) 300.90p +1.26%
ITV (ITV) 163.90p +1.24%
London Stock Exchange Group (LSE) 1,562.00p +1.10%
Pearson (PSON) 1,322.00p +0.84%
Croda International (CRDA) 2,594.00p +0.82%
Experian (EXPN) 1,187.00p +0.76%
WPP (WPP) 1,174.00p +0.69%
Wolseley (WOS) 3,143.00p +0.61%
Kingfisher (KGF) 388.00p +0.57%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) 1,853.00p -6.32%
Wood Group (John) (WG.) 797.00p -4.09%
Aberdeen Asset Management (ADN) 364.20p -3.85%
Hammerson (HMSO) 488.30p -2.73%
HSBC Holdings (HSBA) 685.70p -2.63%
Petrofac Ltd. (PFC) 1,231.00p -2.53%
Rio Tinto (RIO) 2,978.50p -2.33%
BHP Billiton (BLT) 1,879.00p -2.31%
Fresnillo (FRES) 1,158.00p -2.20%
British American Tobacco (BATS) 3,333.50p -2.14%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Enterprise Inns (ETI) 138.30p +4.14%
Paragon Group Of Companies (PAG) 332.40p +3.71%
Brown (N.) Group (BWNG) 555.00p +3.06%
Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK) 1,118.00p +2.57%
Carpetright (CPR) 660.00p +2.48%
Drax Group (DRX) 675.50p +2.43%
Ashtead Group (AHT) 655.50p +2.34%
Howden Joinery Group (HWDN) 278.20p +2.13%
Ocado Group (OCDO) 282.90p +2.13%
Dixons Retail (DXNS) 42.58p +2.06%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
JPMorgan Indian Inv Trust (JII) 289.50p -3.82%
Petra Diamonds Ltd.(DI) (PDL) 123.40p -3.22%
Salamander Energy (SMDR) 120.40p -2.90%
Ferrexpo (FXPO) 175.30p -2.50%
Imagination Technologies Group (IMG) 275.60p -2.48%
Kentz Corporation Ltd. (KENZ) 571.00p -2.39%
Catlin Group Ltd. (CGL) 461.70p -2.33%
Aveva Group (AVV) 2,367.00p -2.15%
Alent (ALNT) 339.50p -1.88%
Lonmin (LMI) 338.50p -1.83%