* FTSE 100 index closes 0.4 percent lower
* Near-term technical outlook looks bearish
* Investors cautious before Crimean referendum
By Atul Prakash
LONDON, March 14 (Reuters) - Britain’s top share index touched a five-week low on Friday and recorded its biggest weekly drop in eight months, with growth-driven stocks losing ground before a referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea.
Fund management, insurance and mining all came under pressure as investors cut exposure to riskier assets heading into the weekend, when Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
The UK’s second-largest independent asset manager, Aberdeen Asset Management, fell 3.1 percent, the biggest decline on the FTSE 100 index. British Airways owner International Airlines Group dropped 2.7 percent and insurer Aviva was down 1.7 percent.
“Investors are nervous ahead of the referendum in Ukraine as its expected outcome is likely to create further instability in the market and could prompt the West to impose more sanctions against Russia,” James Butterfill, global equity strategist at Coutts, said.
“High-beta stocks are hard hit as people are concerned that further sanctions would not only hurt Russia but some other European countries that rely quite heavily on Russia for their energy supplies,” he said. So-called high beta stocks, such as financials, are often more volatile than the broader market.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 closed 0.4 percent lower at 6,527.89 points, taking the week’s total losses to 2.8 percent, the biggest drop since June 2013. The mining index fell 0.6 percent to become the top sectoral decliner.
Moscow said it would veto a U.S.-drafted UN resolution to declare the Crimean referendum illegal. Meanwhile, it was shipping more troops and armour into Crimea and repeating its threat to invade other parts of Ukraine.
“The market is spooked due to the prospect of more sanctions against Russia as an awful lot of money comes to the market from some very rich Russian investors. The FTSE was touching new highs anyway and Sunday’s referendum has become a perfect excuse to take some money off the table,” said David Battersby, investment manager at Redmayne-Bentley.
“Until the Ukraine crisis is sorted out, which could drag on for a while, the market does have the potential to move down even further. But I am not talking about a massive leg downwards. In the worst-case scenario, the FTSE 100 could fall to 6,400, at which point it will become relatively cheaper.”
Charts also painted a bearish picture. After falling below its 50-day and 100-day moving averages this week, the FTSE 100 dropped below its 200-day moving average and a 61.8 percent Fibonacci retracement of a rally from Feb. 4 to 24 on Thursday.