Friday, April 4: The UK’s FTSE 100 saw its fifth decline in six weeks as insurers on the index fell after continental counterparts were asked by European regulator EIOPA to suspend dividend payments in order to survive the economic impact of coronavirus. The FTSE 100 was 1.18% lower at the close as shares in L&G(-7.36%), Aviva(-4.27%) and Prudential(-2.57%) all weighed on the index.
The domestically focused FTSE 250(-2.34%) index also closed lower as retail stocks continued to drop, alongside housebuilders and leisure stocks. Ascential(-14.17%) was one of the biggest losers as it announced the suspension of a number of events. The Group announced that it had taken the difficult decision to cancel the Cannes Lions festival this year, after already announcing its postponement due to Covid-19. Management concluded that it would be inappropriate and not commercially viable to run the festival in 2020. Revenue from the festival & its awards and associated regional events constituted more than half of total Marketing revenues in 2019. In line with many other listed companies, the Group also decided to withdraw the 4.0p final dividend for 2019 declared earlier this year, saving the company £15m.
Much anticipated UK PMI data for both services & manufacturing sectors saw sterling pare recent strength it had gained versus the euro and the dollar as the data undershot even pessimistic expectations. Composite Purchasing Managers’ index covering both sectors fell below a flash reading of 37.1, to 36.0 and a 53.0 read in March. The services industry suffered its largest slump since the survey started in 1996, as the services index sank to 34.5, from February’s 53.2 and a flash read of 35.7. Despite the furloughing of staff and government-backed aid for salaries, employment levels across the service sector still dropped at the fastest pace for more than a decade, reflecting some forced redundancies, and the non-replacement of departing staff, combined with widespread hiring freezes.