London midday: Stocks in the red ahead of BoE, US jobless claims
London stocks were off earlier lows but still firmly in the red by midday on Thursday as investors eyed a rate announcement by the Bank of England and the release of the latest US initial jobless claims.
Just before midday, the FTSE 100 was down 1.6% at 5,598.51.
Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said: "Markets are fretting over the US jobless claims numbers due at 1230 GMT. The estimate is anything from 0.8m to 4m, against a usual print around the 200k level."
"Wilson said this will be the first real measure of just how far and how fast the world’s largest economy has contracted because of the coronavirus.
"Investors are also fretting over the second wave of cases in Asia. Tokyo and Hong Kong are bracing for a second front in the war," he said.
On home shores, meanwhile, the Bank of England’s policy announcement was due at midday, following two emergency rate cuts already this month, to a record low of 0.1%.
"We may see the central bank commit to further measures to help stabilise the economy, having seen the bank already announce another £200bn of purchases of government and corporate bonds, bringing the total to £645bn," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.
Earlier, data from the Office for National Statistics showed they UK high street was already flagging in February, as heavy rain and widespread flooding kept people out of shops.
The quantity bought in retail sales fell for the fourth consecutive month by 0.6% in the three months to February. The monthly growth rate fell 0.3%, compared to growth of 1.1% in January. The month-on-month figure came in below consensus - most economists had been looking for growth of around 0.2%.
Year-on-year, February 2020 was flat, the lowest growth since March 2013, when it fell 1.6%.
The coronavirus outbreak has in recent weeks seen a spike in retail sales, especially in grocery, as consumers rush to stockpile food and household goods. However, stockpiling did not start in earnest until March. Instead, the weak performance was attributed to unseasonably bad weather and some disruption to supply chains.
Rhian Murphy, head of retail sales, said: "Retail sales continued to decline in the latest three months, due to weak sales across most store types, with February’s bad weather and flooding impacting on footfall.
"A small number of retailers also said that the impact of the coronavirus had affected sales of goods shipped from China."
On the corporate front, the Covid-19 updates kept coming.
Electrical retailer Dixons Carphone reported a 24% fall in like-for-like sales growth in the UK in the three weeks to March 21 as it pulled guidance and placed its final dividend on review as the coronavirus pandemic hit trading.
British Land cancelled its dividend, waived £3m of rents from smaller tenants and halted work at big developments in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Capital & Counties announced it was temporarily suspending its share buyback programme and will defer some rental payments due to the outbreak, as it said it is still is too early to assess the impact.
Self-storage company Big Yellow said it was considering a number of initiatives to conserve cash in the short term due to the coronavirus, that it will agree rent holidays or deferrals for some customers, and that a decision about its final dividend will be made "in due course".
Weir Group said it was scrapping its dividend and cutting costs to withstand declining demand caused by the crisis.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Rightmove (RMV) 478.60p 6.88%
Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) 239.00p 6.18%
ITV (ITV) 69.56p 5.84%
Meggitt (MGGT) 312.10p 4.98%
Legal & General Group (LGEN) 195.05p 3.94%
Compass Group (CPG) 1,162.50p 3.89%
Whitbread (WTB) 3,113.00p 3.46%
Next (NXT) 4,470.00p 3.21%
Prudential (PRU) 1,058.00p 3.07%
Pennon Group (PNN) 1,048.00p 2.64%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Centrica (CNA) 40.94p -6.91%
Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) 128.25p -6.22%
Carnival (CCL) 1,050.50p -6.21%
Royal Dutch Shell 'B' (RDSB) 1,330.80p -6.11%
Spirax-Sarco Engineering (SPX) 7,980.00p -5.95%
Evraz (EVR) 239.90p -5.66%
Land Securities Group (LAND) 566.60p -5.63%
JD Sports Fashion (JD.) 490.10p -5.60%
British Land Company (BLND) 347.90p -5.59%
Royal Dutch Shell 'A' (RDSA) 1,375.80p -5.57%
FTSE 250 - Risers
McCarthy & Stone (MCS) 67.60p 19.01%
National Express Group (NEX) 203.20p 16.18%
Bakkavor Group (BAKK) 86.20p 14.78%
Mitchells & Butlers (MAB) 185.40p 11.28%
ICG Enterprise Trust (ICGT) 658.00p 9.67%
Greencore Group (GNC) 177.00p 9.29%
TP ICAP (TCAP) 331.50p 8.05%
Pantheon International (PIN) 1,670.00p 7.05%
Watches of Switzerland Group (WOSG) 218.80p 6.21%
Wetherspoon (J.D.) (JDW) 884.50p 4.86%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Virgin Money UK (VMUK) 66.66p -9.72%
Ninety One (N91) 162.20p -8.57%
Bank of Georgia Group (BGEO) 980.00p -7.11%
Elementis (ELM) 48.94p -6.69%
Games Workshop Group (GAW) 4,306.00p -6.63%
Hammerson (HMSO) 88.42p -6.02%
Premier Oil (PMO) 18.00p -5.71%
Hiscox Limited (DI) (HSX) 891.50p -5.51%
Vesuvius (VSVS) 320.20p -5.21%
Petrofac Ltd. (PFC) 202.70p -5.01%