Brexit-sensitive British stocks wilt as worries return after PM vote

Britain’s Brexit-sensitive domestic stocks fell on Thursday as investors decided Prime Minister Theresa May’s victory in a leadership challenge clarified little in the country’s protracted divorce from the European Union.

Weak results from retailers Sports Direct and Bonmarche also dragged the market down, denting investors’ appetite for stocks sensitive to slowing consumer spending - Reuters

The mid-cap FTSE 250 index ended the day down 0.8 percent, giving up early gains as worries that a disorderly Brexit would hurt the economy returned. Half of mid-caps’ income is generated in the UK.

Weak results from retailers Sports Direct and Bonmarche also dragged the market down, denting investors’ appetite for stocks sensitive to slowing consumer spending.

The FTSE 100 ended the day flat with oil and consumer stocks lagging.

The possibility that Britain could quit the EU without an agreement kept many investors on the sidelines. Both the FTSE 100 and 250 are on track for their worst years in a decade.

May survived a no-confidence vote by the Conservative Party on Wednesday night, but more than a third of her lawmakers voted against her, suggesting parliament was heading towards deadlock over Brexit.

“I think this feels a lot more like another step in the long process (towards Brexit). It wasn’t a game changer in itself from a global investor perspective,” said Lars Kreckel, global equity strategist at Legal & General Investment Management.

The sector has been hit by worries that a hard Brexit will damage the British economy, and a survey of property valuers early on Thursday showed a gauge of house prices hit a six-year low in November.

Retailers were the worst hit across the market.

Sports Direct shares tanked, falling 13 percent after the retailer reported weak results and CEO Mike Ashley said trading in November was “unbelievably bad”, highlighting a growing sense of gloom among British high streets in the peak Christmas season.

The stock had its worst day since June 24, 2016 when the Brexit vote sank markets.

“Today’s figures were solid given the circumstances but we have run out of patience with the lack of visibility on strategy,” wrote Peel Hunt analysts, downgrading their recommendation on the stock to Hold from Add.

“Clearly current trading is very poor, as it is everywhere.”

Shares in women’s fashion retailer Bonmarche collapsed 47.2 percent, their worst ever day, after the firm said it could report losses and was faring much worse than during the 2008/09 financial crisis.

FTSE 100 retailers Next and Marks & Spencer fell 3.5 to 3.6 percent.
Some positive moves punctured the gloom, however.

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