By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch
Next rallies after raising profit guidance
U.K. stocks headed lower for a third straight day on Thursday, with investors seeming cautious as they waited to find out whether the Bank of England looks ready to lift interest rates.
The FTSE 100 index dropped 0.1% to 7,372.23, building on a 0.3% loss from Wednesday.
BOE in focus: The subtle moves came as traders prepared for the BOE to deliver its interest rate decision at noon London time, or 7 a.m. Eastern Time.
BOE Governor Mark Carney warned in August that rates could go up faster than investors expect, but the central bank is widely seen as keeping policy on hold for now.
That is still the general view even after data earlier this week showed U.K. inflation soared to 2.9% in August . The reading fueled speculation that the BOE will have to raise interest rates soon to rein in the rapid increase in consumer prices. The central bank's inflation target is 2%, but the fall in the pound prompted by the Brexit vote has made it difficult for Carney & Co. to keep inflation below that threshold.
However, wages are not rising as much as expected , data out on Wednesday showed, and that is seen as slightly tempering forecasts on when the BOE will hike rates.
"The Bank of England faces a dilemma when it meets on Thursday between getting inflation in check and supporting the flagging post-Brexit economy," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note.
"What traders are most interested in is what impact the August inflation number had on those policy makers that have been borderline hike voters, but remained with the majority until now," he added.
Two of the nine members on the Monetary Policy Committee are expected to vote in favor a rate rise at Thursday's meeting. But there's a new policy maker on the committee this month (Sir David Ramsden) and another who only joined in July (Silvana Tenreyro), whose views are little known to markets.
"If three or more members opt for higher rates to divert the inflation from the 3% level, the pound could rally significantly. In this scenario, the next important technical level stands at $1.3420," said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior market analyst at London Capital Group, in a note.
Early Thursday, the pound inched higher to $1.3218, from $1.3210 late Wednesday in New York.
Stock movers: Miners posted some of the biggest losses on Monday after the release of disappointing data on Chinese industrial output . China is a major user of natural resources, so any indications of a factory slowdown there tends to hurt the mining sector.
Shares of Rio Tinto PLC (>> Rio Tinto plc) (>> Rio Tinto plc) (>> Rio Tinto plc) dropped 2%, Glencore PLC (>> Glencore) fell 1.5%, and BHP Billiton PLC (>> BHP Billiton Plc) (>> BHP Billiton Limited) (>> BHP Billiton Limited) gave up 1.4%.
On an upbeat note, shares of Next PLC (>> Next) rallied 7.6% after the high-street retailer raised its profit and revenue guidance for the full year . Pretax profit, however, dropped 10% in the first half of the year.
Non-listed department store chain John Lewis also reported a drop in income on Thursday, saying pretax profits more than halved in the first half of the year.
Among other retailers in the U.K., shares of Marks & Spencer Group PLC (>> Marks & Spencer Group) (>> Marks & Spencer Group) added 1.9%, while Primark-parent Associated British Foods PLC (>> Associated British Foods) (>> Associated British Foods) put on 0.8%.
House builders were lower after the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published a mixed report on activity in the U.K. housing market (http://www.rics.org/uk/news/news-insight/press-releases/growth-at-the-headline-level-but-regional-house-price-picture-remains-mixed/), saying sentiment is increasingly negative in central London. Shares of Taylor Wimpey PLC (>> Taylor Wimpey) fell 0.7% and Berkeley Group Holdings PLC (>> Berkeley) erased 0.9%.