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FTSE continues to slide as investors tip bookies

FTSE continues to slide as investors tip bookies

Britain’s FTSE 100 headed down towards a third consecutive day of losses, as investor angst over forthcoming economic updates continued to keep a ‘Santa rally’ at bay.

The blue chip index, which has zig-zagged lower since the end of October, was down 0.2% to 6,582, with mining shares incluing Antofagasta (ANTO.L) and Kazakhmys (KAZ.L) weighing.

A report showing growth in China’s services sector failed to ignite global markets, as had a similar update on the country’s manufacturing sector published yesterday.

A report on British retail sales, meanwhile, showed growth of 2.3% year-on-year in November, down from 2.6% in October. The pound nonetheless rose 0.2% against the US dollar to $1.6385.

With little other economic data due today, nor major company updates scheduled, investors were biding their time ahead of central bank meetings and US jobs data later in the week.

Of London shares, Betfair (BETF.L), the online betting firm that has been cutting costs, rose 3.1% to £10.62 after reporting a 16% rise in half-year underlying profits.

Nick Batram of Peel Hunt kept his ‘hold’ rating on Betfair stock. ‘There is still much to be done, but the new strategy appears to be working and a meaner, leaner Betfair is emerging. The problem is that the point-of-consumption tax is getting ever closer and this tempers our enthusiasm,’ he commented.

William Hill (WMH.L) was up 2.2% to 389p. Analysts at Numis added the stock to their ‘top picks’ portfolio. ‘A poor run of sporting results has undermined profitability and the share price. But this is not a structural issue and, in our view, it has created a buying opportunity,’ they said.

Shares in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), which has told the BBC it will compensate customers left ‘out of pocket’ after they were unable to make payments yesterday, was down 0.1% at 331p.

Investors have a packed week of major economic reports ahead, culminating on Friday with US jobs data; the non-farm payrolls number and unemployment rate are watched closely by markets attempting to predict when the US Federal Reserve will start to reduce the scale of its monthly bond-buying programme.

Economists polled by Reuters said to expect an increase of 185,000 jobs last month, down from 204,000 in October.

The European Central Bank’s monthly policy meeting also takes place, while in the UK chancellor George Osborne is likely to use his Autumn Statement to announce upgrades to the UK economic growth forecast.

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