LONDON MARKETS: FTSE 100 Gives Up Ground; Unilever Falls After Hurricanes Hurt Sales

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

U.K. retail sales decline in September monthly

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U.K. stocks finished lower Thursday, stuck in the red after British retail sales data fell short of expectations, while shares of Unilever PLC dropped by the most in nine months following the consumer products heavyweight's earnings report.

The FTSE 100 index lost 0.3% to end at 7,523.04, with consumer goods and services shares leading the decline. But oil and gas and basic materials shares were among those that swung higher. The London benchmark on Wednesday rose 0.4% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ftse-100-rises-as-eyes-turn-to-wages-data-2017-10-18).

Hurricanes blamed: Unilever shares (ULVR.LN) tumbled 5.5%, the worst loss since Feb. 20, according to FactSet data, after the company behind brands including Ben & Jerry's and Dove reported revenue growth of 2.6% in the third quarter. Analysts had been looking for growth of 3.9%.

Sales growth was hurt by poor weather in Europe and natural disasters in the Americas, the consumer products company said.

"There's really no growth in the U.S. business," Unilever Chief Financial Officer Graeme Pitkethly said in an interview (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unilever-sales-disappoint-on-us-hurricane-impact-2017-10-19). "But the big one-off impact that caused us to miss against consensus this quarter were the hurricanes in Florida and Texas."

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U.K. shoppers: Retail sales came in weaker than anticipated. Sales fell 0.8% in September (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uk-retail-sales-disappoint-with-drop-of-08-2017-10-19) from the previous month, and rose by 1.2%, missing a year-on-year forecast of 2.3% in a FactSet poll of economists.

The pound bounced around after the report, hitting an intraday low of $1.3133 before retaking the $1.32 handle for a time. Sterling later traded at $1.3172, still down from $1.3205 late Wednesday in New York.

"The dismal sales figure for September suggests consumers' discretionary spending is falling which may be a direct result of falling real wages," said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at Forex.com, in an note.

That holds the potential for third-quarter economic growth data, due next week, to miss market expectations, he said. This week, data showed inflation-adjusted pay fell for the sixth time in a row (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uk-real-wages-fall-for-6th-month-in-a-row-2017-10-18) in August, and consumer price inflation hit 3% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/uk-inflation-hits-3-highest-rate-since-2012-2017-10-17), a percentage point above the Bank of England's target.

"Still, with inflation being at 3%, the Bank of England looks sets to raise interest rates before the year is out, but this is mostly priced in," said Razaqzada. "So, unless U.K. data shows improvement in the coming weeks or there's clarity over Brexit negotiations, the pound may struggle to gain any real ground against her major rivals."

Bank of England policy makers are slated to say on Nov. 2, if they've raised or have left intact the benchmark interest rate that now stands at a record low 0.25%.

Stock movers: London Stock Exchange Group PLC (LSE.LN) shares fell 1.1% after the company said Chief Executive Xavier Rolet plans to step down by the end of December 2018. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/lse-revenue-up-18-ceo-xavier-rolet-to-leave-2017-10-19)

Travis Perkins PLC shares (TPK.LN) picked up 2.2%. The building materials supplier said third-quarter comparable sales rose (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/travis-perkins-sales-up-business-on-track-2017-10-19) and that it expects to meet its full-year expectations.

Off the main benchmark, IWG PLC (IWG.LN) plunged 32% after the workspace provider said an anticipated improvement in third-quarter sales has been weaker than expected.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 19, 2017 12:38 ET (16:38 GMT)