FTSE rally hits buffers, banks, retailers weigh

By David Brett

LONDON (Reuters) – The FTSE 100 failed to hold earlier gains on Thursday, weighed down by weakness in banks and retailers, while energy and mining stocks rose as analysts urged investors to buy companies with earnings growth outside the UK.

London’s blue chip index (.FTSE: Quote, Profile, Research) was down 7.27 points, or 0.1 percent, at 5,941.03 by 1050 GMT, having risen 0.3 percent on Wednesday.

The index has risen 6 percent from its 2011 low at 5,591.59 on March 15, rebounding from sharp falls after Japan’s March 11 earthquake, political troubles in the Arab world and the eurozone debt crisis.

Banks (.FTNMX8350: Quote, Profile, Research) fell with traders citing their exposure to a sluggish domestic economy. Uncertainty over Europe’s debt problems weighed on sentiment, ahead of the results of Irish banking stress tests and restructuring.

Concerns over the eurozone crisis have intensified this week, highlighted by a spike in Portuguese 10-year government bond yields to fresh lifetime highs after the country’s budget deficit missed EU-agreed targets.

UK retailers Next (NXT.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and Kingfisher (KGF.L: Quote, Profile, Research) fell 1.9 and 1.5 percent respectively, after Mothercare (MTC.L: Quote, Profile, Research) became the latest UK retailer to warn on its future profits.

Electricals retailer Dixons (DXNS.L: Quote, Profile, Research) had warned on profits on Wednesday.

“The overall general trend is that the FTSE is split in two, with companies with largely foreign earnings driving the market higher and the companies with largely UK-focused businesses struggling,” Andrew Gibson, head of research at Galvan said.

COMMODITY GAINS

Energy (.FTNMX0530: Quote, Profile, Research) and mining (.FTNMX1770: Quote, Profile, Research) stocks were among the top performers with analysts urging investors to buy into sectors exposed to growth outside the UK.

Citing a trough in a Chinese lead indicator, Gerard Lane, strategist at Shore Capital Stockbrokers said the data suggested the pace of slowdown in China was moderating, which could prompt a switch back toward assets backed by emerging market growth.

“As a result (of China’s slowdown moderating) the underperformance seen in the first quarter of those stocks with a high degree of emerging market exposure should come to an end,” he said.

“Likewise the mining sector that performed well in the second half of 2010, and has eased back, should start to pick up market leadership.”

Randgold Resources (RRS.L: Quote, Profile, Research) gained 5.8 percent after it said group production for 2011 was expected to increase by more than 70 percent over 2010.

Miner Vedanta (VED.L: Quote, Profile, Research) rose 1 percent on hopes its deal for Cairn India (CAIL.BO: Quote, Profile, Research) would soon be ratified, which analysts said would be earnings accretive for Vedanta in the first year.

Goldman Sachs also urged investors to look for growth in emerging markets. “We believe that the growth/inflation balance should improve in emerging markets. The early part of the tightening cycle is over in emerging markets and the growth momentum is likely to accelerate for the rest of the year.”

Elsewhere, chip designer ARM Holdings (ARM.L: Quote, Profile, Research) climbed 1.3 percent, boosted by a Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgrade, while TUI Travel (TT.L: Quote, Profile, Research), Europe’s biggest tour operator, rose 1.3 percent as it assuaged investors’ fear over the impact on its business of the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia.

Back on the downside, Vodafone (VOD.L: Quote, Profile, Research), the world’s largest mobile operator by revenue, shed 0.9 percent after it said it would pay $5 billion to buy out Essar Group from its Indian joint venture.

International Power (IPR.L: Quote, Profile, Research) slipped 1.4 percent after JPMorgan expressed concerns over potential consensus downgrades and limited newsflow.

Technical constraints also limited the market’s earlier advance.

“On a more long term scale the 5,975 level remains the area capping any gains on the upside, and has done since early in March,” James Hughes, senior market analyst, at Alpari UK, said.

(Editing by Jane Merriman)

FTSE rally hits buffers, banks, retailers weigh