London’s leading shares index struggled to find direction today as downbeat housing data in both China and the US saw the recent upbeat mood stutter.
The FTSE 100 Index closed 4.5 points lower at 5961.1 after an unchanged reading in March on the NAHB housing index, which assesses housebuilder confidence, failed to lift it out of the red.
Lingering concern about the strength of Chinese demand, following a fresh fall in the country’s house prices, also put pressure on stocks.
London’s top flight gained around 1% last week as hopes of a sustained economic recovery in the United States and an easing in the eurozone crisis boosted traders’ confidence.
The pound was up at 1.58 against the US dollar, which was weakened by cautious comments on the US economy from a Federal Reserve representative. Sterling slipped against the euro to 1.20.
There was a mixed session for financial stocks, with Lloyds Banking Group among the fallers amid fears its deal to sell 632 branches to the Co-op will be stymied by regulatory concerns over the running of the enlarged business.
Lloyds shares were 0.2p lower at 37.3p, while other fallers included HSBC, which dropped 2.6p to 577.8p, and Barclays after a decline of 2.7p to 253p. However, Royal Bank of Scotland bucked the trend by climbing 1p to 29.2p.
In the telecoms sector, Vodafone rose 1p to 167.4p amid speculation it stands to gain a £1 billion tax benefit if it beats off competition from Tata Communications and pulls off a deal for Cable & Wireless Worldwide.
And BT shares were 1.8p higher at 217.4p after the Sunday Times said the telecoms firm was preparing to put up to £1.5bn into its pension fund in order to tackle a huge shortfall in the scheme.
The early payment to cut the deficit would trigger a better rate of tax relief as the government is reducing the corporate tax rate from 26% to 25% in April.
Outside the top flight, shares in banking software firm Misys jumped 7% after it backed a £1.3bn takeover offer from private equity firm Vista.
The buyer, which plans to merge the business with its recently-acquired trade and risk management software operations, is paying a 32% premium on the Misys share price prior to its now aborted merger deal with Temenos.
Misys was 24.5p higher at 354p, higher than the takeover price of 350p amid hopes that a rival private equity consortium will table a rival bid.
Premier Foods fell 0.5p to 11.5p after it reported a loss of £259.1m due to a write-down and poor trading at its Hovis bakery division.
The biggest Footsie risers were Royal Bank of Scotland up 1p at 29.2p, Resolution ahead 4.7p at 283.5p, Antofagasta up 17p at 1246p and Hammerson ahead 5p at 430p.
The biggest Footsie fallers were Croda International down 67p at 2171p, CRH off 30p at 1379p, National Grid down 12p at 632p and IMI off 18p at 1004p.