January 23, 2020 / 8:20 AM / 2 months ago

FTSE heads for worst week in four months on China virus fears

(Reuters) - UK shares lost roughly 1% as worries over the spread of a new flu-like virus from China forced dealers to dump risky assets, while financial stocks tumbled across the board after the European Central Bank kept interest rates at a record low level.

FILE PHOTO: Traders looks at financial information on computer screens on the IG Index trading floor in London, Britain February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

The FTSE 100 .FTSE gave up 0.9%, marking its steepest one-day drop in nearly two months and set for its worst weekly performance since early October. The midcaps .FTMC ended 1% lower.

An index of miners .FTNMX1770 hit its lowest in more than a month with a 3.1% drop, in line with a fall in copper prices.

Losses came after China put Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, on lockdown as health authorities around the world scramble to prevent a global pandemic. The new coronavirus has so far killed 17 and infected nearly 600 people.

InterContinental Hotels (IHG.L) slipped 4% after saying it would let customers change or cancel for free stays scheduled up to Feb. 3 across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as spread of the SARS-like virus deters tourists.

Other companies that rely on the travel market also took a hit. Airline easyJet (EZJ.L) and cruise operator Carnival (CCL.L) were among the worst performers on the main board, each falling about 4%.

Banks .FTNMX8350 weakened on both benchmark indexes, shedding 1.5% and in tandem with their European rivals after the European Central Bank kept policy unchanged as expected.

Among midcaps, PayPoint (PAYP.L) skidded as much as 8% after the specialist consumer payment provider said its annual profit would grow at a more modest rate than previously expected. The stock ended down 3.3%.

Overall trading volumes were thin, with investors in Asia preparing to go away for the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays.

“It is thus quite understandable that some money would be taken off the table until the true extent of the coronavirus issue becomes obvious,” OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley said.

However, AIM-listed online fashion retailer ASOS (ASOS.L) provided some cheer as it advanced 9% after beating sales growth expectations in the Christmas trading period.

Liberum analysts said ASOS revenue growth was well ahead of its consensus, suggesting that the company’s focus on improving operations and execution was delivering initial results.

Baby products retailer Mothercare (MTC.L) tumbled 11.2% after saying reduction in debt owed to lenders, related to the collapse of its UK business, had fallen behind expectations and caused a shortfall of 10 million pounds.

The company, which last year said it would close all its British stores with the loss of at least 2,500 jobs, added that its chief executive would step down.

Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi and Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber

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