M&S shares slip on retail jitters

Marks & Spencer's investors headed for the check-out today amid fears that the retailer will emerge as one of the sector's losers from the festive season.

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Concerns over festive trading figures due on Thursday have put pressure on Marks & Spencer shares.

Marks & Spencer's investors headed for the check-out today amid fears that the retailer will emerge as one of the sector's losers from the festive season.

Sainsbury's shares also slipped on the possibility that it could suffer its first like-for-like sales fall in more than nine years.

Overall, the FTSE 100 Index was flat as traders kept their powder dry ahead of corporate news later in the week, closing just 0.1 point up at 6730.7.

Germany's Dax was also flat while France's Cac 40 fell amid data indicating continued underperformance in its services sector. In New York, lacklustre US economic data saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the red too.

On currency markets, sterling was flat at 1.64 US dollars and 1.20 euros.

In London, equities were held back by weaker mining stocks as Fresnillo dipped 36p to 735.5p, Antofagasta dropped 34p to 787p and Randgold Resources was 138p off at 3786p, with Rio Tinto sliding 104p to 3266p.

The top-flight risers' board was led by RSA Insurance, which jumped 6% on hopes that it will soon be able to draw a line under the accounting issues that have blighted its Irish business in recent weeks.

According to weekend reports, an independent review by PwC into the £200 million blackhole at RSA's Irish operation is expected to conclude on Thursday that no further write-downs will be needed in the business.

Shares in the More Than owner, which is currently without a chief executive following the resignation of Simon Lee last month, leapt 5.8p to 97.9p.

Confidence in the firm was also helped by a note from UBS reiterating a buy rating and raising the company's target price to 113p.

Travel stocks also did well, with British Airways owner International Airlines Group up 6.2p to 414p and easyJet 32p stronger at 1597p. Both companies doubled in value during 2013 as conditions in the sector showed signs of stabilising.

In the retail sector, shares in supermarket chain Tesco enjoyed a positive session, up 1.7p to 332.2p ahead of trading figures on Thursday which are sure to be another key test for chief executive Philip Clarke's £1 billion turnaround plan.

In contrast, M&S shares declined 3.7p to 440.3p after the Sunday Times speculated that clothing and homewares sales dropped by up to 1.5% over the festive trading quarter, in spite of discounts of up to 30%.

Even takings from the food department, which has performed strongly amid the woes of the fashion division, may fail to provide cheer. Credit Suisse predicts like-for-like growth for the period will have slipped to 1.5%, from 2.5% in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury's, which publishes third quarter figures on Wednesday, is expected to lose its record for underlying sales increases, with analysts pencilling in a decline after 35 quarters of growth in a row. Shares slipped 6.2p to 367.8p.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were RSA, up 5.8p to 97.9p, Hargreaves Lansdown up 50p to 1491p, Persimmon up 31p to 1290p and easyJet up 32p to 1597p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Fresnillo down 36p to 735.5p, Antofagasta down 34p to 787p, Randgold Resources down 138p to 3786p and Rio Tinto down 104p to 3266p.