March 21, 2018 / 10:47 AM / a year ago

FTSE retreats as more drama hits UK retail

LONDON (Reuters) - British shares fell to a new 15-month low on Wednesday as Kingfisher (KGF.L) and Moss Bros (MOSB.L) piled more bad news on a UK retail industry reeling from the surge in e-commerce.

The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London, Britain, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Share declines accelerated after data showed British workers’ pay had risen at the fastest pace in nearly two and a half years. That pushed up the value of the pound and hit shares in big multinationals and exporters.

Any end to the sustained squeeze on UK household incomes was not showing through in the retail industry on Wednesday, however.

Formal clothing chain Moss Bros lost nearly a quarter of its market value after a profit warning it blamed on supply chain problems and fewer customers in its stores. Home improvement chain Kingfisher also reported a recent deterioration in trading.

The FTSE 100 index .FTSE ended the day down 0.3 percent, with Kingfisher falling 10.7 percent to its lowest level since November. Among other retailers, clothing chain Next (NXT.L) was down 1.2 percent and Primark owner ABF (ABF.L) fell 1.1 percent.

After holding steady in January and February, UK retailer shares .FTNMX5370 have tumbled 9 percent this month, outpacing a 3 percent drop in the wider FTSE 350 index .FTLC. The retail index is at its lowest since the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

Underscoring the increasing power of online retail, U.S. ecommerce giant Amazon AMZN.L overtook Google owner Alphabet (GOOG.O) by market value on Tuesday.

Despite the myriad problems facing UK retail, some investors are still venturing into some of the sector’s riskiest stocks.

Multinationals such as British American Tobacco (BATS.L), Diageo (DGE.L) and Unilever (ULVR.L) weighed on the FTSE as the pound rose nearly half a percent against the dollar following the wage growth numbers. [nL8N1R32IE]

Morgan Stanley strategists had been forecasting strong data that would pave the way for the Bank of England to deliver a hawkish statement when it meets on Thursday.

“It has been well established that a number of Bank of England officials are expecting wages to start outstripping headline inflation in the coming months, and a strong average earnings number today could well reinforce that narrative, and raise expectations of a move on rates in May, irrespective of yesterday’s softening in headline CPI,” said Michael Hewson, Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets UK.

Investors were also awaiting the conclusion of a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting for signals on the pace of expected interest rate rises.

Real estate investment trust Hammerson (HMSO.L), which was thrown into the spotlight on Monday when it rebuffed a takeover bid from France’s Klepierre (LOIM.PA), rose sharply in afternoon trading, finishing up 5.2 percent.

Shares in Hammerson takeover target Intu Properties (INTUP.L) tumbled 4.3 percent at the same time.

Traders said merger arbitrage funds were unwinding their positions due to Klepierre’s approach. They were previously long Intu and short Hammerson to play the deal’s arbitrage spread, but the bid from Klepierre threw doubt on the acquisition.

Unwinding shorts on Hammerson likely pushed the shares up.

Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer and Helen Reid, Editing by Toby Davis

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