By Sagarika Jaisinghani and Susan Mathew
(Reuters) - The FTSE 100 fell for the first time in five sessions on Thursday as a clutch of blue-chip firms traded ex-dividend, while National Express Group slumped after reporting a pre-tax loss for the first half of the year.
A 1.5% decline for the blue-chip index <.FTSE> saw it lead losses among European peers and pull back from three-week highs as firms including AstraZeneca <AZN.L>, BP <BP.L>, Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L> and Legal & General Group <LGEN.L> traded without entitlement to a dividend payout. [.EU]
"A combination of some big stocks trading without the rights to their dividend and a bit of profit taking after a strong run for equities so far in August saw the FTSE 100 on the back foot," said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.
The FTSE 100 is up about 5% so far this month, which if gains hold, will be its best month since April. But the index lags its U.S. and European peers as data points to a much bigger hit to the UK economy from the health crisis.
Although key sectors such as housing have begun to show signs of a rebound, analysts have warned that the mini-boom could go bust once the government's jobs subsidy programme closes in less than three months' time and a tax cut expires at the end of March.
Global sentiment also remained unexciting as a deadlock over a U.S. stimulus weighed.
In earnings, bus company National Express <NEX.L> tumbled 16.2% and posted its worst day since March as it warned of more pressure on its finances over the next year.
London's mid-cap FTSE 250 <.FTMC> was off 0.9%, retreating from a two-month high.
Tourism company TUI <TUIT.L> <TUIGn.DE> fell after it said it was considering divestments or raising new equity to reduce debt taken on to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Insurer Just Group <JUSTJ.L> and Watches of Switzerland <WOSG.L> both jumped on upbeat forecasts, while engineering company Renishaw <RSW.L> slid on scrapping its dividend.
(Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Elaine Hardcastle)