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Winners and losers in the FTSE 100 winter surge

It has been an astonishing month or so for the FTSE 100, which posted a record 14th straight daily gains and hit 12 new all-time highs. The benchmark index also flew above the 7,300 mark in for the first time ever, before suffering a bout of Trump-related vertigo in the last couple of days.

Big winners

As ever, some stocks and sectors have done a lot better than others, as shown by new research from online platform AJ Bell. Mexican silver miner Fresnillo is the biggest winner over the last month, leaping a bright and shining 28% from late December to mid-January. Biggest loser is retailer Next, down a dismal 18%. So what’s driving such disparate share performance?

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The mining sector led the FTSE 100’s charge. Randgold Resources was second best performer after Fresnillo, followed by Anglo American and Glencore, all of which rose around 17%. BHP Billiton also featured in the top 10, up 12%. They’ve been obvious beneficiaries of the slide in sterling as Britain heads for a hard Brexit.

Pound sound

This will ramp up the value of the miners’ plentiful overseas earnings when converted into sterling. However, I reckon the pound may have found its floor, with a hard Brexit priced-in. Currency market attention may now turn to the dollar under President Trump,  and the euro as populists seek electoral wins in the Netherlands, France and Germany. So the mining sector may cool, especially with Chinese GDP growing at its slowest rate for 25 years.

The housebuilders are the surprise package with Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey up 14% and 12% respectively. The sector was one of the biggest losers in the post-referendum panic, which was a great buying opportunity, given the continuing housing shortage, low interest rates, and healthy company profitability. Continuing low stock valuations could drive further growth. Whitbread was another winner, up 13%, as AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould says it’s another beneficiary of the weak pound, which is attracting more tourists to its UK hotels.

Big losers

Retailers are the month’s big losers, although none fared as disastrously as Next. Marks & Spencer Group and Primark owner Associated British Foods are both down more than 4%, despite posting decent results in January. Next’s woes have knocked sentiment, as investors question how long the current debt-fuelled UK consumer splurge can last.

There may have been a knock-on effect with British Land Company and Land Securities Group, which fell around 3%, hit by fears over the retail and commercial property sector outlook. Rolls-Royce Group is another straggler, with AJ Bell pointing out that it’s driving through a major restructuring programme just as rival aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus fret about their order books. Standard Life has been wounded by fears over dismal performance at its £25bn Global Absolute Return Strategies fund. Investors are now waking up to its severe underperformance, and fund outflows are gathering pace.

Finally, Pearson continues to struggle, and its decline has accelerated sharply since these figures were produced, amid profit warnings and fears of worse to come. It’s down nearly 28% in the last week alone and there could be worse to come.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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