Upbeat economic news from the US failed to drag London’s FTSE 100 Index out of the red today.
Better than expected reports on housing and inflation across the Atlantic helped blue-chips claw back some of their early losses, but the FTSE eventually finished 6.9 points lower at 3857.1.
Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average – which broke a four-day winning streak on Monday – was up 1% in mid-day trading.
Tim Hughes, head of sales trading at IG Index, said: “After solid gains over the past week have put around 400 points on the FTSE, many seem to be happy to start booking any profits at current levels and then see what the direction of the next major move might be.”
Financial stocks saw modest gains but Barclays dropped off the leaders’ board after yesterday’s 23% surge in the wake of confirmation of talks to sell its iShares fund management business.
The shares were under pressure early on but regained ground to finish 0.4p better at 91.3p.
HSBC did better after a brief update issued with its rights issue prospectus said current trading was in line with expectations.
The firm added 18p to 460p, while Asian-facing Standard Chartered cheered 3p to 854p, although Royal Bank of Scotland was 0.6p off at 22.2p.
Miners also saw losses after brokers at Macquarie marked down several players.
Eurasian Natural Resources was the Footsie’s leading faller, off 38.5p to 375p, a fall of 9%. Rio Tinto, which named Jan du Plessis as its new chairman today, followed it down, losing 119p to 1982p.
Oil major Royal Dutch Shell was also in the red for much of the day despite a pledge to boost payouts to investors this year in the face of “testing” times for the industry.
Shell expects to pay out $10bn (€7.68bn) in dividends in 2009 – 5% ahead of last year. The stock eventually edged a penny higher to 1579p.
Insurer Friends Provident was meanwhile under pressure as it warned that new business levels in 2009 would be below last year and pre-tax losses widened. Friends was down 3.3p to 66.2p, while Prudential lost 15p to 264p.
Investors favoured more defensive stocks, with utility Severn Trent up 21p to 1017p and International Power rising 4p to 213.5p.
Elsewhere, nightclub operator Luminar fell 4%, down 4p to 92p after it said like-for-like sales were down 4.7% for the year across its dancing club portfolio.