The FTSE 100 marched on the spot on Wednesday, ending the period at more or less the same point that it started, as an early rise was wiped out by bad numbers from China.
The blue-chip index rose a meagre 2.88 points, or 0.04%, to 7483.57, with traders also keeping their powder dry ahead of Bank of England Mark Carney’s final interest rate decision on Thursday before he steps down.
But with FTSE 100 companies focused on international affairs, the only Wednesday wobble came as a top Chinese government economist warned that the country’s growth could slow down below 5% in the first quarter of the year, due to pressures from the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
“Given investors freaked out as China’s GDP dropped to 6.0%, a reading more than 1% under that is a potential nightmare,” said Connor Campbell, an analyst at Spreadex.
On the potential for an interest rate cut – which some in the City have been calling for – he added: “Not only is it Mark Carney’s final meeting as governor, but it could bring about a rate-cut – the prospect of which has driven the pound lower in the last week.
“The big question is whether or not the decision will come under Carney, or his successor Andrew Bailey.”
The FTSE 100’s flat performance was bettered slightly by the FTSE 250, which racked up a 0.17% rise, 35.93 points to 21468.99.
David Madden, a CMC Markets analyst, said: “The trading session has been lacklustre as traders are only too aware of the deepening coronavirus situation, but sentiment hasn’t moved a whole lot in either direction.”
The pound fell slightly against the dollar, by 0.15% to 1.3009.
Against the euro, the currency rose by 0.02% to 1.1824.
The FTSE’s European cousins did slightly better, with the Dax up 0.16%, and the Cac rose 0.49%.
In company news, Virgin Money’s shares jumped up by 6.25p to 178.75p even as nearly a fifth of shareholder did not back its pay plans for top bosses after it handed chief executive David Duffy an 89% pay rise last year despite widening losses.
Staying with banks, Lloyds Banking Group said 56 branches, including Halifax and Bank of Scotland sites, will close later this year.
Investors appeared unconcerned, with shares closing off just 0.14p at 57.5p.
Wizz Air defied the gloom hitting the travel sector, earning a record profit in the third quarter and predicted a higher-than-expected net profit for the year.
The low-cost Eastern European airline said it expects net profit to reach between 350 million euros and 355 million euros (£296 million to £300 million), up from previous guidance of 335 million to 350 million euros (£283 million to £296 million).
Investors reacted positively, with shares closing the day up 192p, or 4.7%, at 4,302p.
Car dealership Pendragon warned that profits for the last year are set to come in around the bottom end of forecasts after election uncertainty weighed on consumer demand.
The sector has suffered hard over the past 12 months, and most Pendragon shareholders are hoping for a turnaround, therefore, shares barely moved, closing up 0.08p at 11.64p.
Investors in M&G’s £2.5 billion property fund were told the fund would remain suspended after too many tried to cash out.
Shares in M&G closed up 0.4p at 245p.
The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Rolls-Royce up 22.4p at 673.4p; Melrose up 8p at 247.7p; Whitbread up 121p at 4,471p; Ashtead up 61p at 2,592p and DS Smith up 8.4p at 357p.
The biggest fallers were NMC Health down 65p at 1,318p; Pearson down 13.6p at 573.6p; Berkeley Group down 104p at 5,242p; Taylor Wimpey down 3.4p at 214.7p and Sainsbury’s down 3.1p at 202.4p.