London stocks fell in thin trading on Thursday, on course for their worst year since the 2008 financial crisis, as the United Kingdom widened restrictions to stem a new variant of the coronavirus that is raging across the country.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 lost 1.7%, with consumer and financial stocks, mainly Unilever, Diageo and HSBC Holdings, weighing on the index.
“Although markets may have some short-term nerves, UK equity markets should appreciate strongly in 2021, along with equities globally, propelled by an ocean of zero percent central bank money and a post-COVID-19 economic recovery,” said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA.
The FTSE 100 has lost 14.3% in value this year, shaping up to be its worst since a 31% plunge in 2008 and underperforming its European peers by a wide margin, as pandemic-driven lockdowns battered the economy and led to mass layoffs.
Coronavirus infection numbers have risen sharply in Britain over the last two weeks, driven in part by a new strain that is up to 70% more transmissible than the original, leading to strictest restrictions.
The mid-cap FTSE 250 index, considered a barometer of Brexit sentiment, was down 1%, looking set to end the year 6.2% lower. UK markets will be closed on Friday for New Year’s Day.
The United Kingdom exits the European Union at the stroke of midnight in Brussels, or 2300 London time (GMT), when Britain leaves de-facto membership that continued after it formally left the bloc on Jan. 31.
In company news, real estate agent Countrywide jumped 12% after accepting realty management firm Connells Ltd’s sweetened buyout offer that gives it an enterprise value of about 223.1 million pounds ($304.06 million).
British transport operator FirstGroup Plc rose 1.7% after selling three properties related to its Greyhound bus service for $137 million.
Main Photo: A general view of the London Stock Exchange in London, Britain, . EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA