The rally on London’s FTSE 100 Index has come to a halt amid falls from heavyweight oil giant Royal Dutch Shell and concerns over escalating violence in Egypt.
A batch of positive economic reports in the US failed to ease investor concerns, with markets on both sides of the Atlantic under pressure.
The Footsie fell 16.7 points to close on Thursday at 5983.3, while Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped despite strong revenue gains in the American retail sector in January.
A report from the US Labour Department showing fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week also added little cheer.
In London, the top tier was pulled down by oil firms after Shell disappointed investors with its fourth quarter results. A 3% decline for Shell sent it to the bottom of the Footsie, dropping 73.5p to 2177.5p, after tough downstream trading left earnings in the final three months of 2010 short of the 4.7 billion US dollars (£2.9 billion) expected in the City.
The performance overshadowed its £11.5 billion profits haul in 2010 and sent rival firm BP down 10.1p to 478p. Oil firms BG and Petrofac also fell, down 28p at 1434.5p or 27p at 1566p respectively.
The ongoing political unrest in Egypt saw traders pull their cash out of riskier assets and into more defensive stocks such as British American Tobacco, up 35p at 2388p, and the US dollar, which rose against the pound and euro. Sterling eased to just over 1.61 dollars as the greenback strengthened.
A busy session for corporate results saw BT Group earn a place near the top of the risers board after third quarter profits lifted 30% on the back of a strong three months for broadband additions. Shares were 6.4p higher at 184.9p, a gain of 4%.
Elsewhere in the telecoms sector, mobile phone firm Vodafone announced it expected full-year operating profits to be towards the upper end of the £11.8 billion to £12.2 billion forecast in November. The company has been buoyed by strong smartphone and data usage in the UK, but shares failed to respond as the company dropped 0.1p to 177p.
Thomson holidays firm TUI Travel was another top flight faller, dropping 4p to 243p after it warned the troubles in Egypt and Tunisia could hit earnings by up to £30 million.