Drop in HSBC and Experian hinders FTSE

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s top equity index made little progress on Wednesday, as a fall in the shares of HSBC bank and credit data firm Experian added to signs of weak corporate earnings that have stalled the market’s rally.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index closed down by 2.12 points – flat in percentage terms – at 6,796.44 points. The index reached a two-month closing high last Friday after five straight days of gains but has since stalled after that move up.

A 1.3 percent fall at HSBC took the most points off the FTSE. The bank recorded a 20 percent drop in first-quarter profits and said customer activity was muted in April.

Investec analyst Ian Gordon said he preferred rival bank Standard Chartered to HSBC and that HSBC’s return on equity could remain under pressure in the coming years.

“We see no easy way out and expect RoE to remain sub-10 percent until 2017,” said Gordon, who kept a “hold” rating on HSBC’s shares.

Experian was the worst-performing FTSE stock in percentage terms, sliding 6.5 percent after Chief Executive Don Robert said growth in the first half of this year could be constrained.

The FTSE hit a peak of 6,867.42 points in late January, which was close to its highest level since early 2000. It has since fallen back amid concerns about a slump in emerging markets and mounting unease about clashes in Ukraine between Kiev authorities and pro-Moscow militants.

The FTSE is trading on a 12-month forward price/earnings ratio of about 13 times, against its five-year average of 11, Thomson Reuters Datastream shows. Meanwhile, analysts have been steadily lowering profit forecasts since the start of 2014.

Steve Ruffley, chief market strategist at InterTrader, said now could be a good time to book profits on last week’s run-up in the FTSE, but added investors were still buying up shares on days when the FTSE fell which should support the market.

“As we have not yet reached the psychological 7,000 mark in the FTSE, there are options for profit taking to take place at any point,” said Ruffley.

“But the fact remains that any significant drop has been bought back up, almost immediately. I predict that there may be a small doubt as to the bullish capability of May but any significant dips will continue to be bought back up,” he added.

(additional reporting by Tricia Wright; Editing by Larry King)

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