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Indian variant weighs on stocks; Ryanair loss; hiring rises
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5pm: Indian variant dampens lockdown easing
Concerns over the Indian variant of Covid dampened optimism around the UK easing some lockdown measures.
Boris Johnson urged people to treat the latest easing of restrictions with a “heavy dose of caution”.
Although ministers believe the vaccines will be effective against the highly transmissible Indian variant of concern, there are worries about the impact of its spread on those who have refused to have a jab or not yet been offered one.
The FTSE 100 index closed down 10.76 points, or 0.2%, at 7,032.85.
“Optimism around the reopening of international travel and indoor dining has been short-lived, with airlines, pubs, and restaurants all losing ground on fears around the Indian Covid strain,” said IG Senior Market Analyst Joshua Mahony.
British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines closed down 3.7%, while budget peers easyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair lost 2.8%, 2.5% and 2.4%, respectively.
Restaurant Group, down 6.2%, JD Wetherspoon, down 3%, Mitchells & Butlers, 2.5%, and Trainline, down 4.8%, were among midcap stocks feeling the heat of potentially longer lockdown restrictions in the UK.
Premier Inn owner Whitbread gave back 3% on similar concerns that the full relaxation in June might get pushed back.
8.40am: ESM invests in care homes company
Stirling-based ESM Investments has led a capital raising for Edinburgh home healthcare provider Time For You Care, its second funding deal for the business.
8.30am: FTSE 100 dips
Blue chip stocks defied expectations of lift off following the reopening of large chunks of the economy. The FTSE 100 opened 16 points higher but turned lower and was trading 26 points down at 7,017.56.
7am: Ryanair loss
Ryanair has reported record annual losses of €815m (£702m) as passenger numbers slumped by 81% to just 27.5 million.
The company said the loss after tax over the 12 months to 31 March compared to profits of just over €1bn in the previous year.
Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers said that it saw a partial recovery last summer, but “constantly changing” guidelines made operation difficult for its staff.
Ryanair said it had handled the situation “effectively” and managed to minimise job losses through negotiated pay cuts and by accessing government support schemes.
It said a cash pile of more than €3bn meant it was well-placed to emerge strongly from the crisis.
Bookings started to pick up in April but the company did not see a recovery in pre-COVID demand until the summer of 2022 assuming vaccine programmes remained on track.
Ian Cowie, chief executive of the financial services company, said the Group has delivered a strong financial and operational performance over the first quarter of 2021.
“Our new business pipeline stands strong with redemptions performing within our expectations.
“We have continued to invest heavily in our digitisation agenda, introducing a new BTL origination platform in property finance and building significantly scaled automation tools in business finance to ease the customer journey, in-life management and portfolio analytics.
“With an improving economic backdrop, strengthening demand for our specialist lending proposition, a robust capital position and a strong funding base, we are ideally placed to build on this continued momentum throughout 2021 and in to 2022.”
Recruitment ‘at pre-pandemic levels’
Job recruitment has returned to pre-pandemic levels with hiring intentions at an eight-year high.
All sectors are seeing a recovery in jobs and an improvement in pay prospects, a quarterly report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found.
There is employer optimism across the private, public and voluntary sectors. It extends to industries including retail and hospitality, parts of the economy that have been most exposed to the crisis.
Employment intentions are at their highest since February 2013 when Britain was emerging from the recession of the global financial crisis.
The encouraging outlook comes amid the latest easing of Covid rules today, with pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants allowed to serve customers indoors.
The FTSE 100 was poised to open in positive territory despite a mixed session in Asia.
Chinese retail sales data were 17.7% higher but undershot expectations while industrial output figures showed continuing resilience.
The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gained 0.39% while the Shanghai Composite in China rose 1.02%.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 dipped 1.17% and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.64%.