Brexit-sensitive Irish shares falter as sterling dips on May speech

FTSE-100 manages to eke out a gain as exporters cheer sterling’s weakness

Ireland's Iseq index stood out as a weak spot across European markets on Friday, as Brexit-sensitive stocks such as Bank of Ireland, C&C and Origin Enterprises came under pressure as sterling weakened in the wake of a key speech from British prime minister Theresa May.

The Iseq closed 0.3 per cent lower at 6,700.17, while pan-European Stoxx 600 index rose 0.1 per cent to 383.22. The FTSE 100 managed to add 0.6 per cent to 7,3010.64, as investors in UK exporters cheered the latest drop in the value of sterling.

Sterling snapped a four-week rally against the dollar as Ms May said she would seek a transition period of about two years after Brexit, but failed to outline specifics on a divorce Bill that has been a sticking point in talks with the European Union. The UK currency fell as much as 0.8 per cent against the euro at one stage.

Dealers said that tensions over North Korea kept some investor on the sidelines.


Bank of Ireland lost almost 1 per cent to €6.77, as more than 40 per cent of the bank’s loan book is in the UK, while drinks company C&C traded off 0.9 per cent at €2.96 and Origin Enterprises dropped 0.9 per cent to €6.20.

CRH dipped by 0.6 per cent to €30.75, handing back some of its strong gains from the previous session as a result of the building materials giant's well-received deal to buy a US cement group for $3.5 billion (€2.9 billion).

Bucking the trend, AIB added 1.3 per cent to €4.92, while Permanent TSB edged 0.1 per cent to €1.85.


In UK stocks, AstraZeneca topped the FTSE 100 after analysts in Bernstein raised their rating on the stock to "outperform" and increased their price target. It sent the pharma group's shares up 2.5 per cent.

Smiths Group held the bottom spot on the blue chip index, falling 5.6 per cent after the engineering firm missed expectations despite boosting profits.

Saga shares edged higher by 0.1 per cent. The over-50s insurer and holiday firm said it was on course to achieve its fourth consecutive year of growth despite profits being squeezed by cost pressures.


The Dax ended the session little changed, up 0.1 per cent, in Frankfurt ahead of Germany's general election on Sunday, with chancellor Angela Merkel set, according to opinion polls, to secure her fourth consecutive term in office.

French cosmetics giant L'Oréal was a notable gainer on speculation about ownership changes, rising as much as 6.7 per cent after billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, whose family founded the firm and still owns the largest stake in it, died.

Traders said her death could fuel talk of Nestlé selling its stake in L’Oréal, which, in turn, might look at selling its holding in Sanofi. Sanofi edged up 0.3 per cent while Nestlé reversed earlier gains to end 0.2 per cent lower.

Miners were among the biggest sectoral fallers, down 0.2 per cent, as sabre-rattling over the Korean peninsula and a rating downgrade on China hit metal prices.

North Korea said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after US president Donald Trump threatened to destroy the reclusive country.


US stocks were little changed in early afternoon trading on Friday as losses in healthcare and technology stocks were evened out by gains in energy and industrial stocks.

Uncertainty over the healthcare Bill took a toll on health insurers with UnitedHealth sliding more than 2.3 per cent to weigh the most on the Dow.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.1 per cent at 22,331.4, while the S&P 500 dipped 0.05 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite fell 0.1 per cent.

Oil prices were mixed on Friday, hovering close to their highest levels in months, as major producers may wait until January before deciding whether to extend their output curbs beyond the first quarter.

T-Mobile rose 0.2 per cent on reports the company was close to agreeing tentative terms on a deal to merge with Sprint. Sprint shares jumped 4.79 per cent.

– (Additional reporting: Reuters/PA)

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times