- Economic data, China targets closely watched
- Ukraine crisis still in focus
- Admiral jumps, Melrose sinks
- Credit Suisse takes down housebuilders
techMARK 2,905.24 -0.55%
FTSE 100 6,782.33 -0.61%
FTSE 250 16,619.55 -0.48%
UK stocks fell on Wednesday as investors focused on a string of important economic data, with equities pulling back after a strong rise the previous session on easing tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
Markets were also giving a mixed reaction to growth forecasts from the Chinese government, which expects the global powerhouse to grow by 7.5% this year.
"On face value China re-affirming a 7.5% growth target should be good news on recent form, but analysts have cast doubt over whether that is achievable given leadership goals of curbing credit and pollution concerns, and it looks like the much debated economic reform is trying to tick a few too many boxes," said Toby Morris, Senior Sales Trader at CMC Markets.
The FTSE 100 was trading 0.6% lower at 6,782 in by midday, retreating after a 1.7% surge on Monday after comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking for the first time since the ousting of former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych last month, Putin said he saw no need yet to send troops into Ukraine after the situation had "dissipated", adding that soldiers would only be deployed in an extreme case.
Nevertheless, tensions still remain high given the Western condemnation of recent actions by Moscow to step up its military presence in the Crimea region.
"We have not been short of countries condemning the position of Russia but no one has gone as far as to actually react with any meaningful talk of sanctions against Russia. However, sanctions could cause huge issues for not only Russia but for the rest of Europe and the world," said James Hughes, Chief Market Analyst at Alpari.
Economic data in focus
The HSBC/Markit China services purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 51 in February, up from 50.7 in January, showing that activity growth had picked up last month.
Retail sales in the Eurozone rose by a seasonally adjusted 1.6% in January, surprising analysts who had predicted a 0.8% gain. In December sales fell by a revised 1.3%.
Eurozone economic growth estimates were confirmed at 0.3% for the fourth quarter of 2013, in line with initial forecasts and up from 0.1% the preceding quarter.
The final estimate of the Eurozone composite PMI, which measures activity in both the services and manufacturing sectors, was revised to a 32-month high of 53.3 in February, up from the flash estimate of 52.7 and an improvement from January's reading of 52.9.
The UK services PMI fell to 58.2 in February, from 58.3 in the month before but ahead of the 58 expected by analysts.
Over in the States, markets will be paying close attention to the ADP employment report which is often seen as a rough indicator for the more closely-watched non-farm payrolls figure due out on Friday. ISM services data, mortgage applications and the Federal Reserve's Beige Book will also be in focus.
Earnings mixed, housebuilders fall
Investors cheered an in-line set of full-year results from insurance giant Admiral, as the group increased profits by 7% to £370m despite revenues falling 8% to £2.22bn.
Industrial conglomerate Melrose saw profits almost double in 2013, but shares
dropped sharply this morning after the company said that sales growth in 2014 remains "challenging". Both Numis and Investec downgraded their ratings on the stock this morning.
Legal & General also fell despite delivering record results for 2013 as profits grew 10%, after the group warned of "inherent uncertainty" from the impact of the tapering of stimulus in the US.
Housebuilders were among the worst performers after Credit Suisse lowered the sector from 'overweight' to 'market weight', recommending investors to take profits. "To be absolutely clear we are not calling the top of the UK housing cycle, rather we are calling the top of the equity story, as we believe current valuations already factor in substantial future growth in the next two years," said Research Analyst Harry Goad.
The bank cut ratings for Barratt Developments, Bellway, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey from 'outperform' to 'neutral', causing share prices
to drop. Building materials firm CRH fell in sympathy, along with construction equipment rental group Ashtead.
A number of heavyweights were also trading lower after going ex-dividend this morning, including Ashmore, BHP Billiton, Hays, Kier, Oxford Instruments, Rio Tinto, Spirent Communications and TUI Travel.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Admiral Group (ADM) 1,512.00p +6.55%
Randgold Resources Ltd. (RRS) 4,996.00p +2.36%
RSA Insurance Group (RSA) 97.80p +1.98%
British American Tobacco (BATS) 3,344.00p +1.75%
Intertek Group (ITRK) 3,086.00p +1.41%
Severn Trent (SVT) 1,869.00p +1.03%
United Utilities Group (UU.) 793.00p +0.83%
Johnson Matthey (JMAT) 3,287.00p +0.74%
Antofagasta (ANTO) 909.00p +0.72%
Weir Group (WEIR) 2,554.00p +0.71%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Melrose Industries (MRO) 305.30p -6.89%
Persimmon (PSN) 1,399.00p -4.77%
Meggitt (MGGT) 484.00p -4.44%
CRH (CRH) 1,722.00p -3.10%
Rio Tinto (RIO) 3,277.50p -3.08%
TUI Travel (TT.) 437.60p -2.76%
Ashtead Group (AHT) 930.50p -2.67%
William Hill (WMH) 388.30p -2.19%
Legal & General Group (LGEN) 235.80p -1.95%
Experian (EXPN) 1,081.00p -1.91%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Perform Group (PER) 298.00p +7.58%
COLT Group SA (COLT) 140.50p +6.44%
African Barrick Gold (ABG) 298.80p +4.48%
Grafton Group Units (GFTU) 694.50p +3.89%
Booker Group (BOK) 178.10p +2.89%
Greencore Group (GNC) 285.90p +2.84%
esure Group (ESUR) 264.00p +2.52%
Debenhams (DEB) 79.75p +2.44%
International Personal Finance (IPF) 552.50p +2.22%
Pace (PIC) 457.10p +2.12%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Playtech (PTEC) 739.00p -9.21%
Soco International (SIA) 425.30p -8.48%
Devro (DVO) 258.30p -6.75%
Jupiter Fund Management (JUP) 408.50p -4.71%
BBA Aviation (BBA) 337.20p -4.58%
Vesuvius (VSVS) 439.00p -4.54%
Bellway (BWY) 1,632.00p -3.37%
Lonmin (LMI) 292.50p -2.86%
Carphone Warehouse Group (CPW) 338.70p -2.84%
Daejan Holdings (DJAN) 4,900.00p -2.68%