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UK bluechips give up gains as sterling strengthens

By Muvija M and Indranil Sarkar
Traders looks at financial information on computer screens on the IG Index trading floor

By Muvija M and Indranil Sarkar

(Reuters) - London's FTSE 100 fell on Monday as the pound ploughed ahead after unexpectedly robust economic data and as no-deal Brexit worries tempered, leaving internationally-focussed stocks in the dumps.

The blue-chip index <.FTSE> lost 0.6%, shedding earlier gains and lagging its European peers, due to steep falls in pharmaceutical shares AstraZeneca <AZN.L>, GlaxoSmithKline <GSK.L>, and consumer goods giant Unilever <ULVR.L>.

The FTSE 250 index <.FTMC> dipped 0.1%, though losses were limited thanks to a 10.4% surge in Intu Properties <INTUP.L> after the Times reported that private equity firm Orion Capital Managers was looking to buy the shopping centre operator.

Sterling scaled a six-week high as fears of a recession were kept in check after data showed Britain's economy picked up more than expected in July despite Brexit uncertainty.

However, the local currency handed back some of those gains after news that John Bercow, Speaker in Britain's House of Commons, would be standing down from the role.

Over three years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, matters have only gotten more complicated as the process plays out.

In the latest twist, parliament passed a bill demanding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson delay Brexit unless he strikes a new deal, while his office insisted that Brexit would happen on Oct. 31, "no ifs and buts".


"An unsettled UK political and economic landscape could be with us for some time," BlackRock analysts wrote in their weekly note.

"Six months ago, a negotiated deal looked most likely; now, the then-extreme outcomes – no-deal or a new referendum – look to have become more plausible."

Helping contain losses on the main bourse were oil majors Shell <RDSa.L> and BP <BP.L>, both of which eked out near 1% gains on hopes that Saudi Arabia's new energy minister will continue to support output cuts.

Elsewhere, Wall Street indexes gained on growing hopes that central banks will step in with stimulus plans after a data showed an unexpected fall in China's exports last month, while another one pointed to a slowdown in Japan's economy in the second quarter.

The weakness reflected an impact from the prolonged Sino-U.S. trade war to global economic growth.

The dispute saw a sharp escalation last month when the United States announced higher tariffs on Chinese goods. That had dragged the FTSE 100 to its biggest monthly fall so far this year that month.

On Monday, the index saw some news-related falls, with Associated British Foods <ABF.L> losing 2.1% after poor outlook for its Primark fashion chain and British Airways owner IAG <ICAG.L> dropping 1.5% as it cancelled nearly all its flights due to strikes.

(Reporting by Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru; editing by Arun Koyyur and Toby Chopra)