Weaker Pearson, Easyjet peg back Britain's FTSE

Thu Jan 23, 2014 3:57am EST

* FTSE 100 broadly flat

* Holds around 40 points below eight month peaks

* Pearson top faller after weak update

By Toni Vorobyova

LONDON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Britain's FTSE 100 steadied on Thursday, pegged back from recent eight-month peaks by weak updates from Easyjet and Pearson, and by renewed concerns about the strength of top metals consumer China.

Pearson shares topped the loser board, down 5.2 percent and on track for their biggest one-day drop since 2008, after the publisher reported big restructuring charges alongside weak demand in its education businesses in North America and Britain.

"Pearson is now at risk of a big 'double whammy' - earnings downgrades and a de-rating from its premium (valuation) level, driven by market concerns," analysts at Liberum said in a note.

Easyjet was also among the top fallers, off 1.7 percent after the budget airline guided that first half seasonal losses would be higher this year than last year due to the timing of Easter which falls in its fiscal second half.

"At the minute people are just trying to get out. Some of the longer term players are taking profits (on Easyjet)," said Vinay Sharma, trader at Gekko Global Markets.

"Usually we do see some flow in terms of clients looking for value but I haven't seen this morning as of yet."

The weak updates fuelled investor concern about the strength of 2013 earnings at a time when analysts say profit growth is key to driving any further gains in equity markets.

On average, FTSE 100 companies' earnings are seen missing the consensus by 1.0 percent according to StarMine SmartEstimates, which track the up-to-date forecasts of the most accurate analysts.

The FTSE 100 was flat on the day at 6,828.94 points by 0826 GMT, around 40 points below Tuesday's eight-month high.

Among the sectors, media was the biggest faller, down 1 percent thanks to Pearson. Miners were next in line, hit by weak Chinese data.

Activity in China's factory sector contracted in January for the first time in six months, according to the Markit/HSBC PMI, pointing to a weak start in 2014.

On the upside, though, there were some signs of strength in Europe, with the equivalent surveys showing growth slowing less than expected in France and activity picking up in Germany.

That is good news for British blue-chips, which make around a quarter of their sales in Continental Europe.

"Equity markets are struggling to make new highs but it's a bit early to call any kind of a correction with the positive data," said Sharma at Gekko.

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