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FTSE falls sharply on Italy election stalemate

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* FTSE 100 down 1.4 percent

* Italy election vote ends in hung parliament

* Randgold bucks weak market trend

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Weak banks and commodity stocks heaped pressure on Britain's top share index on Tuesday after an inconclusive election result in Italy which threatened to reignite the euro zone debt crisis.

Europe's most indebted state faced a political vacuum after a huge protest vote left no party or likely coalition with enough seats to form a majority in the upper house.

"The Italian elections delivered the worst possible outcome for investors ... The ramifications will lead to increased volatility in the days and weeks ahead," Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor, said.

The FTSE 100 was down 91.05 points, or 1.4 percent, at 6,264.32 by 1211 GMT, although outperforming Germany's DAX and Italy's FTSE MIB, which were left nursing respective falls of 1.9 percent and 4.6 percent.

The FTSE 100 has lagged a rally seen in its European peers from summer lows, with the DAX and MIB having gained about 33 percent and 46 percent until their recent peaks, compared with a rise of about 22 percent in the UK benchmark.

Banks, among the most exposed to the euro zone crisis through corporate and public debt, knocked around 15 points off the index on Tuesday.

With the outcome of Italy's election also clouding the outlook for the global economy, commodity-related stocks also looked shaky, exerting downward pressure on the index to the tune of 25 points.

Whitbread, directly exposed to the broader economy and fortunes of the consumer, shed 3.6 percent after it saw a slowdown in fourth-quarter sales.

There were only three risers on the FTSE 100. Specialty chemical maker Croda International firmed 0.7 percent after it unveiled a 6.6 percent rise in full-year profit.

Randgold Resources, meanwhile, added 0.6 percent as investors turned to gold miners as a proxy for the safe-haven precious metal.

Despite the scale of the FTSE 100's drop, some technical analysts remained relatively constructive on the index.

"The FTSE's failure to hold above the 6,400 resistance level means the near-term outlook has turned bearish, although it's worth remembering that we are still in a long-term bull market," GFT Markets technical analyst Fawad Razaqzada said.

"Therefore, I don't expect to see a huge pullback."

Razaqzada said a first level of support at around 6,215, which marks the neckline of a 'head and shoulders' reversal pattern visible on an intra-day chart, is not that far off. (Additional reporting by David Brett; Editing by Catherine Evans)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130226/ftse-falls-sharply-italy-election-stalemate