THE FTSE 100 edged into the red yesterday, dragged down by a jump in sterling and a drop in AstraZeneca shares following rumours of its chief executive’s departure.

London’s blue chip index ended the day nearly flat, down 3.49 points at 7,413.44.

AstraZeneca shares weighed on the FTSE 100, falling 179p to 5,013p amid rumours the pharmaceutical giant’s chief executive Pascal Soriot was leaving the company to join Israeli drug firm Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

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The news was first reported by Israeli financial news agency Calcalist, which said Mr Soriot had met Teva’s search committee and agreed to take the helm.

AstraZeneca said it did not comment on market rumour or speculation.

The index was also knocked by a stronger pound, which rose 0.2 per cent versus the US dollar to 1.291, and 0.5 per cent against the euro to 1.134, after Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member Ian McCafferty signalled he would continue to push for an interest rate hike.

David Madden, a market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: “Mr McCafferty has a track record of being a hawk ... The UK central bank appears to be divided over its monetary policy, and while there is division the pound will remain volatile.

“The hawks are in a minority at British central bank, but the to-ing and fro-ing will keep traders on their toes.”

Investors were also digesting a report from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which warned the potential Brexit blow to productivity growth could put a £36 billion dent in the Treasury’s coffers and leave the economy nearly £100bn worse off overall.

Across Europe, the French Cac 40 rose 0.2 per cent while the German Dax was up 0.1 per cent.

In oil markets, Brent crude prices jumped 1.6 per cent to around $48.46 per barrel after oil import data pointed to higher crude demand in China.

In UK stocks, BT Group shares jumped 11.5p to 301.6p, making it the biggest riser on the FTSE 100. It comes after the company inked an agreement to roll out 100 EE concessions in Sainsbury’s and Argos stores by 2019.

Burberry shares rose 39p to 1,669p, as investors continued to celebrate news of a four per cent rise in like-for-like sales in the first quarter.

Game Digital jumped 0.75p to 25p after Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct picked up a 26 per cent stake in the company, while Asos shares fell 51p to 5,759p despite reporting a 32 per cent rise in total sales in the four months to June 30.

GoAhead climbed 25p to 1,752p, shrugging off news of a Government order for Southern Railway to pay for a £13.4 mil- lion package of improvements that will include funding 50 on-board supervisors and projects to benefit passengers.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were BT Group, up 11.5p to 301.6p; Marks and Spencer Group, up 10.8p to 327p; and Burberry, up 39p to 1,669p.