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U.K. stocks swept lower as insurers come under pressure, pound climbs

U.K. stocks swept lower as insurers come under pressure, pound climbs

LONDON: U.K.’s blue-chip benchmark underperformed its European peers on Wednesday, moving lower as a rising pound hurt the index’s exporters and insurers slumped as Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean. The FTSE 100 UKX, +0.11% fell 0.3% to 7,354.13, logging a third straight session of losses. The index on Tuesday fell 0.5%, hurt by fears over North Korea’s nuclear program and a jump in the pound. Sterling GBPUSD, +0.1457%  continued higher on Wednesday, rising to a three-week high of $1.3069, compared with $1.3033 late Tuesday in New York, and $1.2932 late Monday. The rising U.K. currency weighed on the index’s internationally exposed names, with shares of Burberry Group PLC BRBY, +0.06% BURBY, -0.39%  down 1.4%, BAE Systems PLC BA., -0.08% BAESY, -2.17%  off 2.7% and Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC RR., -0.11% RYCEY, -0.46%  lower by 0.9%. The pound dropped against the dollar, as the greenback pulled back on speculation Hurricane Irma will strengthen the case for the U.S. Federal Reserve to leave interest rates on hold for the rest of the year.

U.S. stocks DJIA, +0.25% SPX, +0.31%  were mostly higher Wednesday, while European stocks SXXP, +0.00%  ended slightly in positive territory. Irma hits insurers: Wednesday’s session got under way with Hurricane Irma, described as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm in the Atlantic Ocean, hitting islands in the Caribbean and heading toward the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Florida. In London, shares of insurer Prudential PLC PRU, -0.06%  dropped 0.8%. Irma follows Hurricane Harvey, which recently flooded Houston and caused oil refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast to be shut down. On the FTSE 250, shares of insurer Beazley PLC BEZ, -1.63%  slumped 5.7%, Hiscox Ltd. HSX, -1.14%  lost 1.8%, and Lancashire Holdings Ltd. LRE, -0.77%  erased 2.9%. The mid-cap index finished lower by 0.4%. Home builders: Back on the FTSE 100, Berkeley Group BKG, +1.23%  fell 2.5% as the home builder said the London market continued to be adversely impacted by Brexit uncertainty and changes to stamp-duty land tax. Barratt BDEV, +1.34%  lost 4.8% even the home builder said it would return 175 million pounds ($226 million) to shareholders in the form of a special dividend as a result of strong fiscal 2017 earnings.