London's FTSE down at open after China data

The benchmark FTSE 100 index closed 0.28 percent, or 18.67 points, higher at 6,721.51 points on March 11, 2015 (AFP Photo/Leon Neal)

London (AFP) - London's leading share index dipped at the start of trading on Monday on the back of more downbeat economic data from China.

The benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 0.72 percent -- 49.10 points -- to 6,804.34 points in early deals though key Asian markets shrugged off the gloomy export figures.

The biggest fallers were United Utilities which shed 3.22 percent to 961.50 pence and RSA Insurance Group which dropped 3.02 percent to 440.60 pence.

HSBC shares fell 1.51 percent to 611.40 pence after the banking giant faced damaging claims that its Swiss division helped wealthy customers dodge millions of dollars in taxes.

A 'SwissLeaks' cache of secret files emerged online which claimed the bank helped clients in more than 200 countries evade taxes on accounts containing $119 billion.

Precious metal miners continued to rise, however, with Fresnillo and Randgold Resources leading the pack.

China on Sunday said exports fell 3.2 percent year-on-year in January. Imports plunged 19.7 percent -- the largest drop in five years -- owing to lower commodity prices and sluggish domestic demand.

The figures are the latest illustration of China's slowing economy, which in 2014 expanded at its lowest rate in 24 years.

However, mainland Chinese traders took the news as a catalyst to buy, with hopes that leaders will further loosen monetary policy.

Shanghai finished up 0.62 percent, or 19.22 points, at 3,095.12.

Tokyo's Nikkei ended 0.36 percent higher, adding 63.43 points to 17,711.93 as the yen softened against the dollar in reaction to strong US jobs data released Friday.

In the eurozone, Frankfurt's DAX 30 slid 0.75 percent to 10,765.21 points and the CAC 40 in Paris shed 0.83 percent to 4,652.16 compared with Friday's close.