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17-12-2010 13:18:52

Banks weigh on FTSE as Moody's cuts Ireland's rating

The London Stock Exchange building is seen in central London
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By David Brett

LONDON (Reuters) - Banks pulled top shares lower around midday on Friday, as concerns over Ireland's debt situation weighed on the sector after Moody's slashed the country's credit rating.

By 11:39 a.m., the FTSE 100 was down 10.63 points, or 0.2 percent, at 5,870.49.

Banks were led lower by Royal Bank of Scotland (Royal Bank of Scotland Group P), down 2.2 percent, on persistent concerns over euro zone debt, as Moody's Investors Service cut Ireland's credit rating by five notches to Baa1 from Aa2 and said further downgrades could follow.

"Europe's sovereign debt problems are hampering the FTSE's progress," said Jimmy Yates, head of equities and CMC Markets.

"Until a firm resolution is agreed by EU leaders, London's blue chips will struggle to break above recent highs (5,907.10) before the year-end."

Elsewhere among the fallers, AstraZeneca (Astrazeneca PLC ORD SHS $0.25) slipped 5.3 percent after its new heart medicine Brilinta failed to win approval from U.S. regulators.

UK REITS RISE

FTSE 100 real estate investment trust companies British Land (British Land Company PLC ORD 2), Hammerson (Hammerson PLC ORD 25P) and Land Securities Group (Land Securities Group PLC) rose 0.8-2.5 percent as Credit Suisse upgraded its stance on the sector to "overweight" in a strategy note.

Mid-cap UK real estate firms were also boosted as Barclays Capital started its coverage of three of the firms in the sector, Derwent London (Derwent London PLC ORD 5P), Capital & Counties and Great Portland Estates (Gr.Portland ORD 12 1/2P), with an "overweight" stance, pushing the shares up 1.4-2.1 percent.

Software group Autonomy Corp climbed 2.7 percent, aided by an upgrade in its target price by Panmure Gordon in a note that highlighted strong results from U.S. tech firms.

Airplane parts maker GKN (GKN PLC) rose 0.9 percent, adding to gains of 3 percent made on Thursday, helped by an upgrade in rating from Societe Generale and ahead of a pre-Christmas trading statement.

On the second line, retailers suffered, with Dixons (Dixons Retail PLC ORD 2.5P) down 5.3 percent as UBS downgraded its rating on the electrical retailer to "neutral" from "buy" and kept its "underweight" stance on the non-food retail sector.

Fashion retailer SuperGroup (Supergroup ORD 5P) was the top FTSE 250 loser, down 6.2 percent, extending losses since its first-half results on Wednesday.

There was no important British economic data due on Friday, but investors will keep an eye on U.S. November lead indicators, which are scheduled for release at 1500 GMT.

(Editing by Will Waterman)

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