The blue chip FTSE 100 <.FTSE> index was up 0.1 percent, slipping from the record 7,447.00 points reached in the previous session, but reaching a record close of 7,429.45 points, as investors digested the government's setting the date to open formal negotiations to exit the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed on Tuesday that she would trigger Article 50 on March 29, beginning the process of leaving the EU.
Defensive, dividend-yielding stocks such as consumer staples were in favour in a risk-off trade, with Reckitt Benckiser (>> Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc) and Sainsbury (>> J Sainsbury plc) among top gainers.
Cyclicals stocks, on the other hand, slipped. Energy stocks <.FTNMX0530> were the biggest drag on the large caps, with BP (>> BP plc) falling 0.4 percent and Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L> down 0.6 percent as oil prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies from OPEC. [O/L]
British banks <.FTNMX8350> were led lower by Royal Bank of Scotland (>> Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc), which fell 1.6 percent.
"The financial stocks have all been on a pretty good push over recent sessions, so we are starting to see some short-term profit-taking come in," said Dafydd Davies, partner at Charles Hanover Investments.
"We could start to see, as Brexit uncertainty builds, a bit more de-risking on the financials that are particularly exposed to the direct state of affairs in question.”
Last week, British banking shares came under pressure on the prospect of a new Scottish independence referendum and the invoking of Article 50.
Associated British Foods (>> Associated British Foods plc) was a top FTSE gainer, up 1.6 percent after Goldman Sachs upgraded the Primark owner to "buy" from "neutral".
British mid-cap stocks <.FTMC> outperformed their blue-chip peers to set a new record high, closing up 0.4 percent.
Tullow Oil (>> Tullow Oil plc) was among top fallers, down 2.4 percent. One trader cited a Bank of America Merrill Lynch downgrade to 'neutral' as weighing on the stock.
On the small caps, drug developer Circassia (>> Circassia Pharmaceuticals PLC) was the top gainer, rising 13 percent to its best-ever daily gain, after Stifel raised its recommendation on the stock to 'buy' from 'hold', after Friday's announcement of a deal to acquire U.S. commercial rights for two AstraZeneca (>> AstraZeneca plc) drugs.
The stock was through more than eight days' worth average 30-day volume. Up to Friday's close it had fallen 65 percent in the last 12 months, having been hit by the late-stage failure of its experimental cat allergy treatment in June last year.
(Reporting by Kit Rees; Editing by Larry King)
By Kit Rees and Helen Reid
Stocks treated in this article : AstraZeneca plc
, BHP Billiton plc
, Antofagasta plc
, Hansteen Holdings plc
, Anglo American plc
, Associated British Foods plc
, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc
, Tullow Oil plc
, BP plc
, J Sainsbury plc
, Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc
, Circassia Pharmaceuticals PLC