By Kit Rees and Helen Reid
LONDON - Britain's top share index inched higher to set a record closing level on Monday, as falling energy stocks and banks were outweighed by rising consumer staples stocks.
The blue chip FTSE 100 index was up 0.1 percent, slipping from the record 7,447.00 points reached in the previous session, but reaching a record close of 7,429.45 points, as investors digested the government's setting the date to open formal negotiations to exit the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed on Tuesday that she would trigger Article 50 on March 29, beginning the process of leaving the EU.
Defensive, dividend-yielding stocks such as consumer staples were in favour in a risk-off trade, with Reckitt Benckiser and Sainsbury among top gainers.
Cyclicals stocks, on the other hand, slipped. Energy stocks were the biggest drag on the large caps, with BP falling 0.4 percent and Royal Dutch Shell down 0.6 percent as oil prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies from OPEC. [O/L]
British banks were led lower by Royal Bank of Scotland, which fell 1.6 percent.
"The financial stocks have all been on a pretty good push over recent sessions, so we are starting to see some short-term profit-taking come in," said Dafydd Davies, partner at Charles Hanover Investments.
"We could start to see, as Brexit uncertainty builds, a bit more de-risking on the financials that are particularly exposed to the direct state of affairs in question.”
Last week, British banking shares came under pressure on the prospect of a new Scottish independence referendum and the invoking of Article 50.
Associated British Foods was a top FTSE gainer, up 1.6 percent after Goldman Sachs upgraded the Primark owner to "buy" from "neutral".
British mid-cap stocks outperformed their blue-chip peers to set a new record high, closing up 0.4 percent.
Tullow Oil was among top fallers, down 2.4 percent. One trader cited a Bank of America Merrill Lynch downgrade to 'neutral' as weighing on the stock.
On the small caps, drug developer Circassia was the top gainer, rising 13 percent to its best-ever daily gain, after Stifel raised its recommendation on the stock to 'buy' from 'hold', after Friday's announcement of a deal to acquire U.S. commercial rights for two AstraZeneca drugs.
The stock was through more than eight days' worth average 30-day volume. Up to Friday's close it had fallen 65 percent in the last 12 months, having been hit by the late-stage failure of its experimental cat allergy treatment in June last year.
(Reporting by Kit Rees; Editing by Larry King)