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LONDON MARKETS : FTSE 100 Wobbles After Weak Retail Sales, On Course For Worst Week In 5 Months

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04/21/2017 | 02:54pm CEST

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch

Rio Tinto rallies after upgrade

U.K. blue-chip stocks on Friday darted between small gains and losses, keeping the benchmark FTSE 100 on track for its worst weekly performance in five months, but Rio Tinto PLC led gains in the key mining sector.

Stocks continued to seesaw even after a drop in the pound, spurred by March retail sales that missed the mark and raised the prospect of a slowdown in British economic growth.

The FTSE 100 index was up 0.1% at 7,126.72. Financial, basic material and industrial shares were higher, but oil and gas, consumer and health care shares struggled.

European stocks also swung between gains and losses .

"Trading sentiment is increasingly cautious in front of Sunday's first round of voting for the French presidential election that is too close to call," said Richard Perry, market analyst at Hantec Markets, in a note. "With so many variables according to the polls, traders do not appear willing to take a view in front of Sunday's vote and the volatility is likely to be seen early next week."

For the Easter holiday-shortened week, the London benchmark was on track for a 2.7% drop, which would be its biggest percentage decline since early November, FactSet data showed. This week, stocks were clipped by the pound's jump above $1.28, which came after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly called a snap general election for June 8.

And

A stronger pound puts pressure on the FTSE 100's multinational companies that make the bulk of their earnings and revenue from overseas markets.

Movers: On Friday, shares of Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC (>> Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc) (>> Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc) were at the bottom of the index, down 1.7%. The consumer goods company, whose brands include Air Wick and Lysol, posted first-quarter revenue of 2.64 billion pounds ($3.31 billion), up 15% considering foreign exchange rates.

But excluding the impact of changes in exchange rates, like-for-like revenue was unchanged. The comparison was the "toughest" for the year, given a rise of 5.2% in the first quarter of 2016, said Liberum analysts in a note.

But shares of Rio Tinto PLC (>> Rio Tinto plc) (>> Rio Tinto plc) (>> Rio Tinto plc) were up 1.6% following an upgrade for the iron ore producer at BNP Paribas. Analysts are questioning whether a recent selloff in iron ore is overdone and are suggesting Rio Tinto shares are worth consideration for buying, Barron's wrote Friday (http://blogs.barrons.com/asiastocks/2017/04/21/iron-ore-selloff-is-overdone-time-to-buy-rio-tinto/).

Rival BHP Billiton PLC (>> BHP Billiton plc) (>> BHP Billiton Limited) (>> BHP Billiton Limited) rose 0.5% as the company said it's embarking on a $204 million expansion of its coking-coal operations in eastern Australia to increase production and reduce operating costs.

Other mining shares rose, with Antofagasta PLC (>> Antofagasta plc) up 1.4% and Glencore PLC (>> Glencore PLC) higher by 0.6%.

Mining stocks make up nearly 7% of the FTSE 100's weighting.

Economic data: The pound dropped to an intraday low of $1.2758 after U.K. retail sales figures widely missed expectations. March sales rose 1.7% year-over-year, the Office for National Statistics said, confounding expectations for a 3.7% increase . Sales month-over-month fell by 1.8%, also missing expectations.

"The story is one of U.K. consumers feeling the squeeze following the impact of the post-referendum falls in the pound on import prices and on prices consumers are now facing on the High Street," Investec economist Victoria Clarke said in a note, adding that inflation is likely to rise to around 3% towards the summer.

"[We] expect this squeeze on consumer spending momentum to contribute to a slowdown in the quarterly pace of growth over the year ahead, starting with next week's Q1 preliminary GDP figures," she said, noting Investec's growth forecast of 0.4%.

The British economy grew 0.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016. The first-quarter growth report is due next Friday.

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