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Consumer stocks drag FTSE 100 to first day in losses in 2023

A trader from BGC Partners, a global brokerage company in London's Canary Wharf financial centre waits for European stock markets to open

By Shashwat Chauhan and Johann M Cherian

(Reuters) -Britain's FTSE 100 closed in the red for first time in 2023 on Tuesday with consumer stocks among top losers on jitters about the extent to which further U.S. interest rate hikes will slow the world's largest economy.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 retreated from 3-1/2 year highs and ended 0.4% lower. The domestically focussed FTSE 250 mid-cap index closed 0.5% down.

U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell did not comment directly on monetary policy, offering some relief to investors after two Fed officials struck a hawkish chord overnight.

"We've seen this pattern erupt a lot, whereby investors cling on to any kind of data indicating that perhaps the price barrier is coming down and then what you get is policymakers pouring cold water on the speculation," said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Back home, consumer staples such as British American Tobacco, Diageo and Ocado were among the biggest drags on the blue-chip index, after NielsenIQ warned that weak confidence around personal finances would hold back growth in food retail sales.

The food, beverage and tobacco sector that houses consumer staples is among the worst performers, less than two weeks into the year. Last year the sector closed 2% higher.

Meanwhile, a survey showed that the labour market cooled further in December, hinting that the Bank of England's (BoE) concerns about the risk of longer-term inflation may ease.

But worries remained as the BoE's chief economist warned of persistent inflationary pressure.

Among individual stocks, recruiter Robert Walters slumped 3.3% after the company warned that its full-year profit was expected to be slightly below market expectations.

(Reporting by Shashwat Chauhan and Johann M Cherian in Bengaluru; Editing by Dhanya Ann Thoppil, Subhranshu Sahu and David Gregorio)