The London market fell back after a number of apparently positive corporate updates were tempered with talk of tough trading ahead.
The FTSE 100 Index slipped 33.67 points or 0.5 per cent to 6,721.78 as traders also took a cautious view ahead of the release of minutes from the last US Federal Reserve meeting.
But Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, thought the decline might mask a more positive change in investor appetite.
He said: “The index is under pressure from declines by big name defensives offsetting strength from more risk-oriented counterparts – potentially some gentle New Year rotation into risk rather than pessimism.”
Among the classically defensive stocks, Imperial Tobacco was down 3 per cent at 2,247p, Centrica was 2 per cent lower at 330.1p and GlaxoSmithKline dipped 1 per cent 1,599p.
But the banks continued to be in demand as builders Persimmon and Galliford Try provided further evidence of a strengthening house market. Lloyds added 1.29p at 83.8p, while Royal Bank of Scotland climbed 7.5p to 357.9p.
However Persimmon’s hints at higher profits guidance seemed to be already priced in, and the shares closed 5p lower at 1,289p. Galliford Try shed 13p at 1,191p.
Shares in Mothercare plunged by more than 30 per cent as investors spat their dummy over its latest profits warning. The stock fell 128.5p to 291.5p as confidence in its turnaround plan evaporated.
In other news Lombard Medical Technology, the life sciences firm that makes its medical equipment at a factory in Ayrshire, unveiled plans to shift its listing from Aim to Nasdaq as it pushes into the United States market. Investors cheered the move, sending the shares more than 5 per cent higher, up 10.5p to 190.5p.