LONDON (Reuters) - British equities closed at nearly six-week lows on Monday, dragged down by financial sector shares and ceding earlier gains fuelled by the weak pound.
Mid-cap firms, meanwhile, suffered their worst day in five months after the pound weakened more than half a percent against the dollar GBP=. The currency headed for its biggest loss in 11 days on news of a rebellion among Conservative MPs against the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May.
But the pound's tumble gave a boost to dollar-earning companies on the FTSE 100 .FTSE, with Unilever (ULVR.L), Diageo and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) up around 1 percent or more. Oil majors Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and BP (BP.L) also received a helping hand from the currency.
Cruise operator Carnival was the biggest gainer on the day, up 1.7 percent (CCL.L).
“While UK equities remain vulnerable in the face of uncertain Brexit negotiations, we believe they are supported by the robust global economy as the FTSE 100 generates about two-thirds of its revenue from outside the country,” Coutts analysts told clients.
The bank added that its UK equity portfolio was “tilted towards high-quality large-cap companies with significant overseas earnings which make them less dependent on the domestic economy.”
The FTSE 100 index closed 0.2 percent lower, however, as financials took a beating from political uncertainty. Shares in RBS (RBS.L), Lloyds (LLOY.L), HSBC (HSBA.L), Standard Chartered (STAN.L) and Barclays (BARC.L) closed lower.
The sector took as much as nine points off the index.
Mid-sized companies bore the brunt of currency weakness, with the index .FTMC falling for the sixth day in a row and losing more than one percent.
Rory McPherson, head of investment strategy at PSigma, said he had switched out of domestic companies and into large-caps to benefit from likely falls in sterling in the event of a leadership election.
“A lot of companies close to the consumer have guided downwards in terms of outlook for the UK,” McPherson said.
That view appeared to be borne out by a survey from payments company Visa which found British shoppers reined in their spending by the most in four years in October.
Analysts have also downgraded their earnings estimates for small-cap companies, indicating potential weakness ahead for the best-performing part of the UK stock market this year.
The day’s worst performer was defence contractor Babcock (BAB.L) which sank more than 7 percent
Defence contractor Ultra Electronics (ULE.L) was the latest in a string of companies to issue a profit warning. Its shares plummeted to eight-year lows after it forecast a weaker second half. It closed almost 20 percent down on the day.
Liberum analysts cut their estimates for the company and removed a planned acquisition of U.S. company Sparton from their calculations because of uncertainty about its completion.
Coca Cola HBC (CCH.L) shares fell 5 percent following a downgrade to “neutral” by JPMorgan.
JP Morgan analysts said investors in the bottling company should take profits and await a better entry point after a potential deal to buy a stake in Coca Cola Beverages Africa.
Reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg