1630: Close It was another negative finish in the City today, as investors engaged in a round of profit taking amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, a disappointing outlook from Melrose, alongside which a number of stocks went ex-dividend. On the macro front, the UK service sector slipped in February with the PMI falling to 58.2 from 58.3 in the month before. It was the slowest pace on record since June, but nevertheless came in ahead of the 58 points expected. In the US, private non-farm sector payrolls in the US expanded by 139,000 during February; the consensus estimate was for a rise of 158,000. In other news out Stateside, service sector PMI for February dropped to 53.3 from 56.7 in the month before. The FTSE 100 closed 48.35 points lower at 6,775.42.
1610: Looking ahead to Friday's US monthly jobs report for February, Capital Economics took note of downside risks to its payrolls forecast of 125,000 jobs but remained unwilling to change the forecast "on what looks like an erratic fall in one survey measure." However, at 150,000 the consensus forecast before the report was higher than theirs.
1509: Weakness in the employment gauge was the main culprit behind the fall seen in the ISM non-manufacturing gauge, with the hit to healthcare - as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act - a possible contributor, Barclays Research points out. Downward revisions from some of the largest research shops to their forecasts for Friday´s monthly payrolls report seem to be trickling in already.
1500: US ISM service sector purchasing managers index slips to 51.6 from 54 in the month before (consensus: 53.5). "Some of the respondents attribute this to weather conditions. Overall respondents' comments reflect cautiousness regarding business conditions and the economy," ISM says. FTSE 100 down 34 to 6,790.
1450: Not everyone is so keen on Admiral, notwithstanding recent share price gains. Shore capital analyst Eamonn Flanagan has told Reuters that "To us, simply outperforming a weak and struggling industry is not the stuff of double digit price-to-earnings ratios."
1353: According to Reuters, an ECB source predicted there would be unanimous agreement to end sterilisation of the bond purchases made under the bank's Securities Markets Programme (SMP).
1315: US private sector payrolls expanded by 139,000 in February, moderately below the 158,000 foreseen. Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody's Analytics, said: "February was another soft month for the job market. Employment was weak across a number of industries. Bad winter weather, especially in mid-month, weighed on payrolls. Job growth is expected to improve with warmer temperatures."
1054: Shares of insurer Admiral are again back up against technical resistance towards the 1,500p area. FTSE 100 down 25 to 6,798.
1053: Broker Investec has upped its view on shares
of Meggitt to 'buy' from 'hold', nudging its target price higher in the process to 550p from 540p, despite the company having "fluffed" its lines for fiscal year 2013. The reasons for that are: "the group's long term growth prospects, margins and cash generation capacity all remain strong, and, for us, outweigh this. Short term we expect momentum in Civil after-market and Energy to maintain/regain traction somewhat offsetting military and FX headwinds".
1049: Canaccord Genuity maintained its 'sell' recommendation and 1,200p target price on StanChart stock given as how they expect further cuts to consensus to reflect the lender´s strategy re-focus and the "headwinds" it faces in emerging markets.
1046: "The unchanged GDP growth target is the big news on the opening day of the National People's Congress, though the government has given itself more wriggle room on growth than may immediately be apparent," Capital Economics writes to clients.
0959: Industrial conglomerate Melrose is a heavy faller this morning, trading down around eight per cent, despite reporting that profits nearly doubled in 2013, helped by a full year's contribution from Elster, the gas, electricity and water metering company acquired in 2012. Numis has downgraded the stock from 'hold' to 'reduce', saying it sees downside risk to the current share price. The broker said that the market's focus is now on the next acquisition and the stock's already 'heady' rating 'appears to already be discounting the next deal'. The FTSE 100 is down 29.49 at 6,794.28.
0928: The Markit UK service sector PMI slipped to a reading of 58.2 for February from 58.3 in the month before, slightly ahead of the 58 which had been forecast. That was nonetheless the lowest rate seen since June.
0900: UK stocks slipped at the start of trading, following yesterday´s surge and despite overnight gains on Wall Street. A near one per cent drop in Chinese stocks may be putting a damper on sentiment, with some 'market chatter' to be heard regarding the risk for an on-shore debt default in China potentially making headlines soon. Admiral and StanChart are in the lead early on, on the heels of their latest full-year results. Credit Suisse has taken an axe to its price targets for UK homebuilders. The Markit UK service sector PMI is due at 09:30. The BoE´s Andy Haldane is scheduled to give a speech at 14:30. FTSE 100 is down 21 to 6,803.