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(Reuters) - British blue-chip shares retreated on Friday, pushed lower as sterling rallied following a newspaper report citing cabinet ministers saying Britain would have to delay its exit from the European Union.
The report in the Evening Standard pushed sterling up against the dollar and euro, dragging the exporter-heavy FTSE 100 <.FTSE> off earlier highs and down 0.2 percent at 1229 GMT. But the currency fell back after a spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May ruling out any delay.
Companies which earn mainly in U.S. dollars are hit by a stronger pound and were the biggest drag on the index. AstraZeneca
The Evening Standard cited unnamed cabinet ministers as saying Brexit looks increasingly likely to be delayed beyond March 29 because of the backlog of legislation that needs to be passed.
Stocks had been boosted earlier by reassurance from U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell on the pace of further rate hikes, and progress in U.S.-China trade talks.
Mid-caps, which make up half of their income at home, were up 0.5 percent at their highest in over a month, and on course to end the first full trading week of 2019 with their biggest gains since November.
British homebuilder shares <.FTNMX3720>, among the most sensitive to Brexit news, extended earlier gains to trade up 2.1 percent after the Evening Standard report.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch upgraded the UK housebuilding sector to neutral on Friday, boosting a sector already helped by a solid update from Britain's third-largest housebuilder Taylor Wimpey earlier in the week.
"It seems at least possible, or even probable, that some sort of Brexit resolution is within sight and therefore the UK House Building sector may see some relief," BAML analysts wrote.
Adding to worries at home, however, official data showed that Britain's economic growth hit a six-month low in the three months to November as factories suffered from tough global trade conditions ahead of Brexit.
Stobart jumped 5.6 percent to top mid-cap winners after the news.
Retailers continued to upset the markets.
AIM-listed fast-fashion retailer Quiz
Suit retailer Moss Bros
Some respite was offered by online electricals retailer AO World
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