Belfast Telegraph

Top flight index plummets into the red, as Next shares slump

London's top flight index plummeted into the red, as s hares in high street giant Next slumped to their lowest level for more than two years after it said the year ahead was set to be the "toughest we have faced since 2008".

The retail bellwether saw shares drop 15% after it said it was bracing itself for a consumer slowdown and warned profits could potentially fall by up to 4.5%.

Its gloomy comments sparked share losses among rivals such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, while the wider FTSE 100 Index was also sharply lower - down more than 1.4% or 92.6 points to 6106.5 - as oil prices fell back.

The cost of benchmark Brent crude sank 0.6% to 40.22 US dollars after the US government reported a crude stockpile three times above analysts' expectations on Wednesday.

Indices were also lower across Europe, with the Cac 40 in France off 2.1% and Germany's Dax 1.7% lower.

The pound was up 0.25% against the dollar at 1.41 after falling in previous sessions amid fears the Brussels attacks could push Britain towards a Brexit vote.

Sterling was also up 0.3% against the euro at 1.26.

Commodities firms came under pressure amid further falls in the oil price, with mining giant Anglo American dropping 22.7p to 500.8p.

Next was the biggest blue chip faller as its warning came despite the group reporting a "solid" set of annual results, with underlying pre-tax profits up 5% to £821.3 million for the year to the end of January.

Chief executive Lord Wolfson said recent "volatile" sales trends and economic data signalled a consumer spending slowdown and shift in buying away from clothing.

Its shares fell 1005p to 5665p - hitting their lowest level since December 2013.

M&S followed Next into the red, down 4.9% or 20.3p to 392.5p, while Debenhams dropped 3% or 2.5p to 72.3p in the FTSE 250 Index.

Outsourcing giant Mitie was sharply lower in the second tier as it warned over lower-than-expected revenues after concerns over the state of the economy led to a spate of cancelled work.

The FTSE 250 company said revenues fell short in the second half of its financial year, as economic uncertainty and pressures saw some projects delayed and others taken off the table altogether.

Shares fell 7% or 18.7p to 245.7p, despite assurances that it still expects to hit its target for full-year profits.

Back in the top flight, Big Six energy supplier SSE was one of only a handful of blue chip risers after it raised its adjusted earnings per share guidance for the year to the end of March and said all of its three divisions - networks, retail and wholesale - were expected to be profitable.

Shares lifted 4.5p to 1464.5p.

Mr Kipling cakes firm saw its shares fall 3% or 1.8p to 52p as it poised itself for a fresh takeover bid from an American suitor after snubbing its previous two offers.

US spice and herbs giant McCormick & Company said it would be willing to up its bid for the firm as it urged Premier's board to discuss its approach with shareholders.

Premier rejected McCormick's first offer of 52p in cash per share, and a second at 60p in cash per share, because they "significantly" undervalued its future growth.

The biggest risers in the FTSE 100 Index were Paddy Power Betfair up 55p to 9300p, Capita PLC up 6p to 1034p, CRH up 10p to 1948p, London Stock Exchange up 12p to 2832p.

The biggest fallers in the FTSE 100 Index were Next down 1005p to 5665p, Standard Chartered down 37p to 440.6p, Associated British Foods down 193p to 3265p, Prudential down 70.5p to 1275.5p.

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