The FTSE 100 index slid to a two-month low today following rising worries about the surge in Covid-19 infections and the number of British workers self-isolating.
It fell 2.3 per cent to 6,844.4p on Monday as the overwhelming majority of firms registered on the blue-chip index saw their share price decline, with the biggest faller being Rolls-Royce Holdings.
Many other engineering companies were among the biggest fallers, including Smiths Group, chemicals and metals specialist Johnson Matthey and aerospace parts business Melrose Industries.
Bad day: The overwhelming majority of firms registered on the blue-chip FTSE 100 index saw their share price decline today, with the biggest faller being Rolls-Royce Holdings
Financial services giants such as Lloyds Banking Group and mining multinationals like Anglo American and Glencore also witnessed their share prices reduce by more than 4 per cent.
At the same time, the FTSE 250 ended trading 2.3 per cent lower at 21,940.9p as major travel firms saw significant drops over concerns that spiralling coronavirus rates in the UK will lead to restrictions being reintroduced.
These worries have been amplified by the UK Government implementing stage four of the roadmap out of lockdown, which lifts most Covid-19 rules from today.
Nightclubs have now reopened for the first time in 16 months, the ‘one metre plus’ rule on social distancing has ended, and sports stadiums can now operate at full capacity for events.
According to the latest government data, there were 48,161 positive tests for the coronavirus in the most recent 24-hour period, the highest number since January 12 when England was in the depths of its third national lockdown.
Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson, whose modelling initially shaped much of the UK Government’s lockdown strategy, has warned that the positive case numbers could reach 200,000 a day this year.
Major warning: Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson has warned that positive case numbers among the UK public could reach 200,000 a day later this year
He also told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday that it was ‘almost certain’ that hospitalisations will reach 1,000 per day and ‘inevitable’ that the country would hit 100,000 cases per day after restrictions are relaxed.
He additionally warned that further along, as many as 2,000 people could be hospitalised daily for coronavirus and that this would cause ‘major disruption’ to services and worsen the backlog for elective surgeries on the NHS.
Businesses and trade organisations are increasingly fretting that the growth in infection rates and the number of Britons ‘pinged’ on the NHS Covid app will force them to curtail their operations as staff self-isolate.
PureGym chief executive Humphrey Cobbold has noted that up to a quarter of staff in some areas have had to self-isolate while British Retail Consortium’s boss said the jump in those self-isolating is having a ‘significant impact’ on retail outlets.
Businesses and trade organisations are increasingly fretting that the number of Britons ‘pinged’ on the NHS Covid app will force them to curtail their operations
Russ Mould, an investment analyst at AJ Bell, said: ‘Lots of people have been vaccinated and assumed they had become invincible. Reality is now striking as many of these individuals get a wake-up call by catching Covid or being pinged and told to isolate.
‘Pictures from UK airports would suggest some increase in flying but certainly nowhere near the levels one might have expected a few months ago. Then, everyone was talking about their big plans to celebrate once Freedom Day came around, and now it’s proved to be a damp squib.
‘The big concern for the market is whether we are going to see a slowdown in the global economic recovery, and this could be the overriding force which results in a bad period for equities in the weeks ahead.’
Oil companies also took a big tumble on the FTSE following oil prices falling after the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed to hike output in the coming months.
BP’s shares fell by 5 per cent while Royal Dutch Shell and Smiths Group, the owner of oil services firm John Crane, each declined by 4.3 per cent.
Meanwhile, a warehouse fire caused by robots colliding at Ocado’s fulfilment centre in Erith in south-east London sent the online grocer’s share price tumbling to its lowest level in more than a year today.
Ocado has been a major beneficiary since the pandemic began thanks to the boom in consumers deciding to buy their supermarket shopping online.
Since the start of the year, though, its share price has fallen by around a quarter. By contrast, the FTSE 100 has grown by 4.15 per cent.