FTSE recovers to end flat on hopes for ECB action
LONDON (Reuters) - The FTSE 100 recovered in late trading on Friday to end flat after sources said the European Central Bank was considering setting yield band targets under a proposed bond buying programme, while bid rumours helped Marks & Spencer.
The possible ECB move to tackle the euro zone debt crisis would allow the central bank to shield its strategy and deter speculators trying to cash in, sources said, but a decision would not be made before the ECB's September 6 policy meeting.
The FTSE 100 index ended flat at 5,776.60 points after falling to a low of 5,739.41. But the benchmark ended the week in negative territory after three straight weeks of gains. Volumes were just 61 percent of the 90-day daily average.
Investors kept a close eye on other developments in Europe, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel reassuring Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras she wanted his country to stay in the euro zone, but gave no sign of ceding to his pleas for more time to meet the tough terms of a bailout.
"The key catalysts we are looking for are not just the anticipated policy response in Europe and the United States, but also some signs that the pace of economic contraction is starting to slow," Robert Parkes, equity strategist at HSBC Securities, said.
"We are playing a value strategy at the moment. We like the sectors that have been oversold, where there is a lot of pessimism. We are focusing on areas such as banks, telecoms and utilities."
Telecom shares were in demand, with Vodafone rising 0.4 percent and Cable & Wireless gaining 0.9 percent.
The retail sector and the FTSE 100 index were led higher by British clothing and food stores chain Marks & Spencer, which rose 4.3 percent on persistent bid rumours, with a media report adding to market hopes that private equity could be getting ready to swoop.
CVC Capital Partners has already explored taking the company private, Bloomberg said, citing people close to the matter, but added that the firm was not thought to be currently pursuing a bid.
Analysts said the FTSE 100 index was likely to continue trading in a range ahead of some key events, which have the potential to determine the market's direction.
"You have got low volumes and are in a situation where people are not sure whether to speculate on the basis of any news coming from the euro zone," Daniel Harris, director and head of dealing at H2O Markets, said.
If nothing concrete emerges after the Federal Reserve's conference in Jackson Hole next week and the European Central Bank's policy meeting on September 6, then the FTSE 100 could fall to around 5,500 where it traded last month, he said. In the event of a positive outcome, he saw the FTSE trading back to 6,000.
"I would look at cyclicals on the dips as some of the financials and miners are lagging behind, but don't take undue amount of risk by holding onto positions and look for opportunities to take profits fairly quickly," Harris said.
Among major decliners, miners lost ground, with Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and ENRC falling 1.4 to 3.6 percent, mirroring losses in key base metals prices on worries about metals demand in top consumer China.
China's official People's Daily said the country should ready plans to respond to near-term risks in an economy facing significant pressures, but keep the broad policy focus on longer-term structural adjustments.
Charts showed the index could get some support at 5,700, a 61.8 percent retracement of its fall from March to June. The next support was seen at 5,675, its 50-day moving average.
"The FTSE 100 has been trading in an upward trend channel since the beginning of June, however technicals suggest further short-term downside towards the lower range of the channel, around 5,600," Julian McCormack, technical analyst at Brewin Dolphin, said.
"Longer term, a continuation of the upward trend channel could see a move towards the strong resistance level of 5970- 6000 during the fourth quarter.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)
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