FTSE falls back as growth worries return

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Heavyweight commodity stocks fell in London on Thursday on fresh signs of economic weakness in China and concerns over growth in the United States, driving Britain's top share index lower.

Miners and energy stocks bore the brunt of the selling pressure, with the two sectors particularly sensitive to the health of the global economy, and especially that of top commodities' consumer China.

A private-sector survey which showed China's factory sector contracted for an eighth straight month in June stoked fears that demand for resources might slow.

The US Federal Reserve's decision to only introduce a limited expansion of monetary stimulus also weighed on equities, which have been supported in recent weeks by hopes of new central bank funding to fight off the economic slowdown and Europe's sovereign debt crisis.

“A pervasive sense of disappointment is abroad in markets this morning as investors wake up without the active Fed support they were hoping for, while weaker Chinese data only deepens the gloom,” said Ben Critchley, sales trader at IG Index.

At 12:50 SA time, the FTSE 100 was down 38.23 points, or 0.7 percent, at 5,584.06 points - its first retreat after four consecutive days of gains.

Earlier this week, the FTSE breached the key technical level of 5,600 points for the first time since early May, but traders said the underlying weakness in the global economy meant investors would quickly lock in profits after such rallies.

“Some traders doubt that the rally represented new money anyway, choosing to believe that short covering was the major driving force,” said James A. Hyerczyk, Analyst at Auto chartist.

“Looking at the short-term rally from 5,229.80 to 5,623.85, if the FTSE fails to follow through to the upside and selling pressure begins, we could be looking at a retracement back to 5,426.83 over the near term. If 5,414.00 can't hold as support, there may be an acceleration to the downside,” Hyerczyk added.

DEFENSIVE POSITIONS

A switch away from risk sensitive sectors such as miners and energy signal led a boost for defensively perceived stocks, notably drugmakers, household products groups, tobacco firms and utilities.

Reckitt Benckiser stood out, ahead 0.9 percent as the stock rose after falls earlier this week linked to profit warnings in the consumer goods sector from France's Dan one and US giant Proctor & Gamble (P&G).

Liberum says it believes Reckitt and Germany's Henkel have the most direct overlap with P&G although it argues that P&G's issues are mostly company specific.

Anglo-Spanish airlines group IAG was also a top blue-chip gainer, up 1.1 percent and helped by a retreat in Spanish bond yields after an auction of debt saw solid demand, slightly easing worries about Spain's debt burden although yields spiked.

IAG is leveraged to the health of the Spanish economy, and especially the banking sector, with troubled Spanish lender Bankia holding a 12 percent stake in their merged airlines group.

IAG was due to hold its annual general meeting on Thursday. - Reuters


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