Business

Covid: Shares hit as new variant rattles investors

Covid: Shares hit as new variant rattles investors thumbnail

Image source, Getty Images

Stock markets across the world have fallen sharply after the discovery of a new Covid variant raised fears over the economic recovery.

In London, the FTSE 100 share index dropped by 2.6%, while markets in Germany and France also declined following overnight falls in Asia.

Shares in airlines and travel firms were among the hardest hit.

The UK and other nations have introduced a ban on flights from six southern African countries.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said scientists were “deeply concerned” about the new Covid strain and its potential to evade immunity.

The UK has temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini from midday on Friday until 04:00 on Sunday.

All six counties are being added to the UK’s travel red list. It means that any British or Irish resident arriving from the countries after 04:00 on Sunday will have to quarantine in a hotel, with those returning before that being asked to isolate at home.

The FTSE 100 index opened sharply lower on Friday morning, with British Airways-owner IAG leading the fallers as its share price tumbled by more than 10%. Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for planes. also saw its shares drop, down 9.4%.

EasyJet was one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 250 index, with its shares down 9%, as was Whizz Air. Travel firms such as cruise operator Carnival and Tui also recorded sharp declines.

“Fear has gripped the financial markets with the travel industry flying into another violent storm,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“With Europe still battling with the surge of a fourth wave of the virus, there are now fears that the highly mutated Covid strain discovered in states in Southern Africa will prompt fresh shutdowns around the world in an attempt to stop its spread, leading to another drag on recovery.”

Despite the fall in the FTSE 100 on Friday, the index is still trading nearly 12% higher than it was a year ago.

A number of other countries – such as Germany, Italy and Israel – have banned flights from the six southern African nations.

Both Germany and France’s leading stock market indexes fell by more than 3% on Friday.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that other EU nations should also “activate the emergency brake” to stop travel from these countries.

The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Stock markets in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia also fell overnight as did indexes in India and South Korea.

Oil prices also declined on fears the new Covid strain could lead to restrictions and dampen demand. Brent crude dropped by 4.9% to $78.15 a barrel.

“The drop in the oil price is the market’s way of saying it is worried about a reduction in economic activity,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

In London, shares in oil giant BP dropped by 5.3% while rival Shell also saw its share price fall by more than 4%.

But Mr Mould added: “The flipside of falling commodity prices is that a weaker oil price should provide some relief in terms of inflationary pressures.

“That may cause central banks to be more cautious towards raising rates in the near-term, however it does depend on whether the new Covid strain causes significant disruption or can be contained as best as possible in a rapid manner.”

Mr Javid said more needed to be learned about the new Covid variant. Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.

However, he said the variant had a significant number of mutations, “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.

He said that adding the six countries to the red list was about “being cautious and taking action and trying to protect, as best we can, our borders”.

BA said: “We’ll be contacting affected customers with information about their flight.”

It added it was advising passengers to monitor the latest travel advice with the UK government and on the BA website.

Virgin Atlantic said its flights from Johannesburg to London Heathrow would be cancelled between midday on Friday to early on Sunday morning.

“We’re currently reviewing our schedule of South Africa operations for the coming week,” it added.

The carrier said any customers booked to travel to or from South Africa with Virgin Atlantic should check on the company’s website. If they have booked through third parties or agents, they should get in touch with them.

More on this story

Leave a Comment