FTSE 100 slides and pound takes knock

The FTSE 100 struggled for direction on Thursday, while the pound took a knock on continued Brexit worries.

London’s top flight closed down 16.34 points, or 0.22%, at 7,401.94.

Connor Campbell, financial analyst at SpreadEx, said: “A relatively uneventful session couldn’t prevent the FTSE from falling.

“Unable to shake its initial decline, the UK index found itself off its six-month highs.”

In stocks, action was to be found on the FTSE 250, where shares in Saga capitulated after the over-50s insurance and holiday firm warned over profits amid a company overhaul.

The group said it is launching a “fundamental” strategy rethink which will see it change tactics in the insurance business to address “increasing challenges” in its markets.

Shares tumbled as much as 40% at one stage as it said this will knock profit margins, which, together with changes to premium renewal prices and investment in new products, will see underlying pre-tax profits slump up to 42% in 2019-20.

It is now pencilling in profits of between £105 million and £120 million for 2019-20.

Shares closed down 39.55p, or 37%, at 67.25p.

Mothercare shares also came under pressure as the baby retailer revealed UK sales tumbled 8.8% in its fourth quarter and warned that trading conditions are set to remain “challenging”.

The babycare chain said the like-for-like sales fall in the three months to March 30 marked an improvement on the previous two quarters, but the result was boosted by clearance promotions from shop closures.

It added that the clearance sales had “significantly” hit online sales.

Shares were down 1.55p at 20.8p.

Trafford Centre owner Intu’s shares were in the red as it picked a new boss after a challenging year for the company amid a retail crisis and failed merger talks.

Matthew Roberts, the chief financial officer, will take the top job at the end of April after the departure of incumbent David Fischel.

Shares were down 1.25p at 104.75p at the close.

The pound came under selling pressure, falling 0.6% versus the US dollar to 1.307 at the London market close.

Against the euro, sterling shed 0.5% to 1.165.

“The pound’s initial positivity was abandoned after lunchtime.

“This as it awaits the result of the Cooper Brexit delay bill debate in the House of Lords, one that could come pretty late given how slowly the peers are moving,” Mr Campbell added.

The House of Lords was debating whether to rush through a backbench bill designed to stop the UK crashing out of the EU next week after it cleared the Commons in a single day on Wednesday.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX was up 0.28% while France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.05%.

A barrel of Brent crude was changing hands for 69.5 US dollars, an increase of 0.1%.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Schroders up 79p at 2,834p, Ashtead up 40p at 2,009p, NMC Health up 48p at 2,464p and Tui up 10.8p at 745p.

The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 were Direct Line down 27.7p at 338.8, Micro Focus International down 123p at 1,944p, Lloyds down 2.26p at 62.62p and St James’s Place down 34p at 1,043p.