Prospects of a lower opening in the United States kept investors in London on their guard today.
The FTSE 100 Index stood 14.6 points lower at 4362.3 by lunchtime as a surprise sell-off in the US late Friday looked set to follow through into the start of the week on Wall Street.
US futures were pointing to lower prices again today, with a clutch of heavyweights including Lexmark, Citigroup, Hasbro and Texas Instruments among those due to report.
In London, investors retreated to the sidelines as the Footsie lost the momentum offered by the 15-month high seen at the end of last week.
Economic data in London showing manufacturers under pressure from rising oil prices added to the gloom.
Tobacco stocks were among the brightest performers after British American Tobacco named non-executive director Jan du Plessis as successor to outgoing chairman Martin Broughton.
British Airways said today that Mr Broughton will replace its retiring chairman Lord Marshall next year.
The biggest beneficiary was BAT’s rival Gallaher, second in the Footsie risers with a 10p gain to 610.5p, while Imperial Tobacco moved 7p higher to 982.5p and BAT was up 5p at 711p.
Pharmaceuticals and colourings group Johnson Matthey was the top riser after a broker lifted its price target on the group. Shares put on nearly 2%, or 18p, to 1022p.
Financial stocks were having a mixed time of it, with Prudential up 2.75p at 488.5p and Aviva advancing 4p to 505p, but Friends Provident down 1.5p at 137.75p.
Among the banks, Abbey National cheered 2.5p to 549p and Royal Bank of Scotland lifted 15p to 1564p, but Barclays fell 5.25p to 497.25p and HSBC declined 5.5p to 905.5p.
Outside the top flight, British Airways took centre stage after announcing results for the first six months of its financial year.
Investors took the profits fall – down to £60 million from £310 million – in their stride, leaving the stock just 1.5p lower at 222.5p.
Elsewhere, convenience foods group Uniq failed to hold earlier gains as cautious comments from the company about the second half of the financial year offset a rise in half-year profits to £11.4 million from £10.1 million. Shares fell 2.5p to 207.5p.
And life assurer Britannic’s decision to close its retirement solutions arm to new business led to a 3.5p fall in shares to 265p.
Meanwhile, the latest on-pitch troubles at Leeds United took their toll on the embattled company’s share price, which fell 8%, or 0.25p, to 2.75p.