London close: FTSE 100 drifts higher as May sets Brexit start date
Equities in London spent the session drifting sideways even as Prime Minister Theresa May set 29 March as the day she would trigger Article 50 to begin Brexit talks to bid farewell to the EU.
May's chosen date -- the anniversary of the infamous and exceptionally bloody Battle of Towton in 1461, during the Wars of the Roses -- came as chatter mounted that the Conservatives might call a snap election for 4 May.
"The news (of an Article 50 date) was hardly a surprise -- however the reminder that the UK is facing years of difficult and likely hostile trade negotiations seemed to suppress investors’ appetite for the (sterling) currency," said Spreadex financial analyst Connor Campbell.
The market closed with the FTSE 100 up 0.07% or 4.85 points to 7,429.81, its gains in part linked to sterling softness of the Brexit news. The FTSE 250 did better, rising 56.89 points or 0.30% to 19,151.80. Key stocks indices in Europe were down for the most part, with Wall St mixed.
Minor rises in the prices of gold and silver, while copper fell, had some benefit for miners such as Randgold Resources and Fresnillo.
Insurers tended to do well, as did high-street supermarkets Sainsbury and Tesco and consumer-goods giants Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.
"Dividend stalwarts are behind the steady recovery in the FTSE 100 today, as the index consolidates above the 7400 level," said IG chief market analyst Chris Beauchamp.
"While racy sectors like mining and banks are out of favour, it is firms like Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever and others that are steadily pushing higher," said Beauchamp.
Commercial property performed well with both British Land and Land Securities on the up, while house builders Barratt Developments and Persimmon firmed after Rightmove property data was issued early on Monday.
The property tracking website said house prices in England and Wales rose 1.3% on the month in March to £310,108, the biggest increase since 2007. On the year, growth was 2.3%, from 7.6%.
Of the blue-chip stocks retreating, Hikma Pharmaceuticals topped the pile after Bank of America Merrill Lynch cut its stance on the stock to 'neutral'.
In corporate news, Vodafone slipped after agreeing terms of a $23bn merger between its Indian business and Idea Cellular, which was part of the Aditya Birla Group.
Oil majors Shell and BP were falling with crude-oil, which sagged amid market unease about cartel Opec's ability to control prices amid a global supply glut and US shale output.
Returning to Brexit, Downing St spokesman said Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's ambassador to EU, had informed the European Council that Article 50 would be triggered on 29 March.
This news was released as markets speculated on whether May would call a general election for 4 May. No. 10 has said May would not call an election until 2020.
Meantime, market participants were still mulling the latest G-20 meeting, which saw an anti-protectionist commitment dropped from its communique after US opposition US.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Dixons Carphone (DC.) 309.60p 2.62%
3i Group (III) 735.00p 1.80%
Sainsbury (J) (SBRY) 274.30p 1.71%
Direct Line Insurance Group (DLG) 340.10p 1.70%
Admiral Group (ADM) 1,977.00p 1.65%
Associated British Foods (ABF) 2,659.00p 1.64%
Old Mutual (OML) 225.40p 1.63%
Reckitt Benckiser Group (RB.) 7,484.00p 1.24%
Randgold Resources Ltd. (RRS) 7,155.00p 1.20%
Fresnillo (FRES) 1,528.00p 1.13%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) 239.70p -1.64%
Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK) 2,134.00p -1.57%
Smurfit Kappa Group (SKG) 2,204.00p -1.25%
Centrica (CNA) 214.20p -1.06%
Shire Plc (SHP) 4,759.00p -1.06%
Anglo American (AAL) 1,279.00p -1.04%
Barclays (BARC) 228.60p -0.91%
Coca-Cola HBC AG (CDI) (CCH) 1,991.00p -0.75%
easyJet (EZJ) 1,015.00p -0.68%
Taylor Wimpey (TW.) 193.50p -0.62%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Evraz (EVR) 231.50p 6.00%
Supergroup (SGP) 1,538.00p 4.06%
Vectura Group (VEC) 157.40p 2.54%
PayPoint (PAY) 1,000.00p 2.41%
John Laing Group (JLG) 275.30p 2.27%
Homeserve (HSV) 565.00p 2.08%
Electrocomponents (ECM) 487.90p 2.07%
SSP Group (SSPG) 416.20p 2.03%
Hunting (HTG) 536.00p 2.00%
Hiscox Limited (DI) (HSX) 1,103.00p 1.94%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Nostrum Oil & Gas (NOG) 442.60p -5.81%
JRP Group (JRP) 138.00p -3.56%
Redefine International (RDI) 36.51p -3.26%
CLS Holdings (CLI) 1,703.00p -3.24%
IP Group (IPO) 163.00p -3.21%
TalkTalk Telecom Group (TALK) 179.60p -2.92%
Assura (AGR) 59.00p -2.64%
Tullow Oil (TLW) 197.40p -2.37%
Vedanta Resources (VED) 881.50p -2.27%
Cranswick (CWK) 2,434.00p -2.25%