London stocks end lower, Ascential jumps on upbeat forecast

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians leave and enter the London Stock Exchange in London

By Sruthi Shankar and Shristi Achar A

(Reuters) -The UK's main stock indexes closed in the red on Wednesday, retreating after an upbeat start to the day as a bleak outlook from technology bellwether Microsoft hit sentiment, while Ascential surged on a positive full-year forecast.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 eased 0.2% to a two-week low and the midcap FTSE 250 index fell 0.3%.

Pessimism spilt over from Wall Street after Microsoft Corp warned that growth in its lucrative cloud business could stall, hitting tech stocks globally.

"If someone like Microsoft is really suffering, with a cautious outlook, plus all those layoffs that are still coming through, it is enough to dampen down any appetite to push this rally further," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG Group.

While the UK's main equity indexes kicked off 2023 on an upbeat note with the FTSE 100 flirting with record levels, worries about Britain's gloomy economic outlook and further interest rate rises have weighed on sentiment since.

Money markets are expecting a 77.1% chance of a 50 basis point hike from the Bank of England next week.

The BoE may welcome data showing Britain's manufacturers unexpectedly reduced their prices in December as it weighs how much higher it needs to lift interest rates.

Events and analytics firm Ascential Plc bucked the broader trend, jumping 26.0% for its best day in more than two years after forecasting full-year EBITDA at the top end of market expectations.

EasyJet also jumped, by 9.7% to mark its biggest one day percentage gain since March 2022, as the airline indicated it expected to beat market expectations for 2023 on strong bookings into summer.

Ryanair added 2.3% and British Airways parent IAG rose 2.0% to its highest since February 2022.

Insurer Aviva gained 3.3% after maintaining its dividend guidance and capital returns outlook, and pub operator J D Wetherspoon dropped 6.1% after saying it was "cautiously optimistic" about this financial year.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Shristi Achar A in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and Rashmi Aich, Kirsten Donovan)