FTSE 100 ends day in the red as Spring Budget looms
The FTSE 100 ended the day in the red and the pound hovered at seven-week lows as investors looked ahead to the Government's Spring Budget.
The pound fell more than 0.2% against the US dollar to trade at 1.221, marking its lowest level since mid-January. Sterling also lost ground against the euro to trade down 0.2% at 1.153.
But the drop in the currency did little to buoy the FTSE 100, which dropped 0.15% or 11.13 points to 7,338.99. Multinational firms listed on the blue chip index tend to benefit when foreign currencies on stronger.
It comes ahead of the Spring Budget which will be unveiled by Chancellor Philip Hammond on Wednesday.
It is likely to be the Government's last budget before the official triggering of Article 50, which is expected later this month.
Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at SpreadEx, said: "Things should pick up tomorrow, with Philip Hammond busting out his first (and technically last) Spring Budget.
"Though the Chancellor's big red box will contain far more than just Brexit-related policies, from a market perspective anything dealing with Britain's exit from the EU will be the main draw."
Investors were also digesting data released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG, which showed that retailers have endured their first quarterly fall in non-food sales for more than five years as rising inflation eats into consumer spending.
Like-for-like non-food sales declined by 0.4% in the three months to February - its first drop since November 2011.
In oil markets, Brent crude prices were fairly muted, up 0.1% to 56.01 US dollars per barrel (£45.94), amid reports that Saudi Arabia's oil minister had noted an improvement in the energy market following Opec's pledge to cut supply.
In UK stocks, Paddy Power Betfair shares were down 515p to 8,270p after revealing that the costs of last year's merger left it nursing annual losses of £5.7 million.
Direct Line shares dropped 10.2p to 338.2p as the insurance giant posted a 30% slump in annual profits after taking a hit of more than £217 million following Government changes to the way personal injury claims are calculated.
Sports Direct shares tumbled 14.1p to 285.3p after warning that it will take a hit from the devaluation of the euro against the US dollar.
Shares in Just Eat rose 24p to 542p after it posted pre-tax profits of £91.3 million, up from £34.6 million in 2015, with group orders up 42% at 136.4 million.
Shawbrook Group shares fell 5p to 314.3p after the challenger bank snubbed an £825 million offer tabled by private equity firms Pollen Street Capital and BC Partners.
The best performers on the FTSE 100 were Intertek Group up 171p to 3,765p, J Sainsbury up 3.4p to 263.6p, Smiths Group up 17p to 1,543p, and Convatec Group up 2.7p to 257.7p.
The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 were Paddy Power Betfair down 515p to 8,270p, Standard Life down 15.1p to 384.9p, Direct Line Insurance Group down 10.2p to 338.2p, and Antofagasta down 21p to 781p.