Housebuilders help drag FTSE lower

Underwhelming UK housing data put housebuilders under pressure with Taylor Wimpey (TW.) among the biggest fallers in the sector.

Taylor Wimpey slid 1.2% to 208.6p. Barratt Developments (BDEV) was down 1.6% at 647.4p and Persimmon (PSN) retreated 1.1% to £27.48.

House price growth slowed from 2.3% in October and November to 1.3% growth in the quarter to December as building activity, completed sales and mortgage approvals were flat.

The FTSE 100 closed 0.3% lower at 7,696.

Brent crude oil was unmoved at $67.64 per barrel. Gold retreated 0.1% to $1,318 per ounce and copper was flat at $3.21 per pound.

The biggest news emerged from babywear retailer Mothercare (MTC), which revealed another profit warning on the back of disappointing Christmas trading.

UK like-for-like sales fell 7.2% in the 12 weeks to 30 December due to lower footfall and website traffic. The retailer lost a quarter of its market value as full year profit was expected to drop from £11.9m to between £1m and £5m. The shares fell by 27.5% to 44.9p.

MID AND LARGE CAP RISERS AND FALLERS

Rare diseases specialist Shire (SHP) announced a corporate shake-up that would see it through two divisions, rare diseases and neuroscience. Investors were unhappy with the update as the shares slid 5.4% to £36.64.

Micro Focus (MCRO) shocked investors after the software giant's half year results failed to meet expectations. Shares in the company crashed 16.9% to £21.45.

TP ICAP (TCAP) dipped 0.7% to 527.2p following the acquisition of US-based SCS Commodities to expand the firm's specialist execution expertise.

SMALL CAP RISERS AND FALLERS

Unlisted Kuwait Energy announced it was in preliminary discussions with SOCO (SIA) over a potential merger. Shares in SOCO soared 15% to 129p.

Diamond producer Gem Diamonds (GEMD) recovered high quality 117 and 110 carat diamonds from its Letseng mine, helping the shares gain 6.7% to 81.6p.

LED lighting tech specialist Dialight (DIA) appointed Marty Rapp as its new chief executive officer, replacing Michael Sutsko. The stock advanced 5.4% to 580p.

McBride (MCB) warned full year adjusted profit before tax would be flat due to weak trading in its European personal care and aerosols division, cost inflation and operational requirements. Its shares dropped 12.3% to 195p.

On AIM, pawnbroker H&T (HAT) reported that it anticipates full year profits will beat expectations thanks to a strong fourth quarter. Investors marked the stock 8.7% higher to 355p on the good news.

Wealth management services provider Mattioli Woods (MTW) rose 1% to 785p thanks to encouraging year-on-year sales growth of approximately 16%.

Broker FinnCap believes US tax reforms will boost earnings at Somero (SOM) significantly. Earnings per share forecasts were upgraded by 19.7% to 34.4c for 2018. This failed to spark the share price at 332p.

Engineering materials group Versarien (VRS) rallied 7.4% to 67.6p on a collaboration agreement with a global textiles and apparel manufacturer.