LONDON (Reuters) - London-listed mining equities fell on Monday as new signs of economic weakness in China, the world’s top metals consumer, prompted investors to dump resources shares at the start of the first full week of 2014.
The UK mining index fell 1.9 percent, the biggest one-day drop in more than a month, after surveys showed growth in Chinese service sector activity slowed in December, mirroring the trend seen in manufacturing.
“China is slowing down, particularly on the construction and manufacturing side, and that could have a negative impact on the commodity space as China is a huge driver of commodities demand,” Macquarie strategist Daniel McCormack said. “If we do see a major slowdown in the country, then it would be difficult for the mining sector to do well ... In the near term, I would like to be positioned in industrials and techs and be cautious on miners.”
Miner Fresnillo fell 4.7 percent to be the worst performer on the FTSE 100 index, Antofagasta declined 4.1 percent, and heavyweight Rio Tinto dropped 3.1 percent after the China data.
“China and its demand for commodities remains important for the mining sector. The services PMI reading supports other recent indicators pointing towards some possible slowing in economic growth in the country,” said Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
However, the blue-chip FTSE 100 index closed flat at 6,730.73 points after a choppy trade, moving in and out of positive territory several times during the day.
Losses in mining stocks were offset by stronger financials, with RSA Insurance gaining 6.2 percent after the Sunday Telegraph newspaper said a probe into its Irish business was likely to conclude that accounting problems were an isolated incident and no more writedowns would be needed.
Some other insurers and banks, generally seen as cyclical stocks, were also in demand on expectations that improving economic outlooks in Europe and the United States would prove to be positive for the sectors.
Insurer Legal & General gained 1.5 percent, while banks Barclays and HSBC rose 1.7 percent and 0.5 percent respectively. The UK banking index was 0.6 percent stronger, the top sectoral gainer.
“The banking sector is clearly exposed to the improvement in economic conditions we are seeing in the UK. The sector is showing good earnings momentum as well,” said Robert Parkes, equity strategist at HSBC Securities.
Analysts remained positive on the stock market’s outlook in the longer term. Morgan Stanley analysts predicted the FTSE 100 index would rise to a record high of 7,220 points in the next 12 months, a gain of 7 percent from current levels.
Additional reporting by Toni Vorobyova; Editing by Pravin Char, Larry King