London stocks gain as investors pin hopes on lockdown easing

(Reuters) – London’s FTSE 100 reversed early losses on Tuesday as investors looked past dismal quarterly earnings reports from oil major BP and lender HSBC and bet on a gradual reopening of the economy amid signs that the coronavirus outbreak is easing.

FILE PHOTO: A street cleaning operative walks past the London Stock Exchange Group building in the City of London financial district, whilst British stocks tumble as investors fear that the coronavirus outbreak could stall the global economy, in London, Britain, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The blue-chip index .FTSE added 0.5%, while the domestically focussed mid-cap index .FTMC rose 0.8% as broader European markets also rallied on indications that more countries looked set to relax the strict curbs imposed to contain the pandemic. [.EU]

BP Plc (BP.L) fell 1.4% after its first-quarter profit tumbled by two-thirds and debt rose sharply, but declines were limited as it declared a quarterly dividend at a time when major British firms have suspended payouts to conserve cash and ride out the economic slump.

“A lot of the bad news is already factored in,” said David Madden, an analyst at CMC Markets in London.

“Someone like BP, they’re going to be severely impacted by the downturn, but they won’t go out of business,” Madden said, adding that traders were looking for signs the British economy would soon start to reopen “slowly, but surely”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday it was still too dangerous to lift the lockdown for fear of a second outbreak, but said the government would outline plans for an easing in coming days.

A raft of global stimulus measures have helped the FTSE 100 recover about 20% from its March lows, but the index is still 30% away from reclaiming its all-time high as economists forecast the deepest recession for the UK in three centuries.

“In the current market environment, it would not take much to send markets back into panic mode,” said Milan Cutkovic, market analyst at AxiCorp.

“It is no longer the negative headlines that dominate daily life (but) the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic remain intact.”

All eyes this week will be on first-quarter GDP figures for Europe and the United States and on central bank meetings, with expectations running high for more stimulus from the European Central Bank.

Asia-focussed lender HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L) reported a plunge in quarterly profit and boosted provisions against potential bad loans as the stay-at-home orders crushed production and put entire sectors at the risk of collapse. Its shares fell 1%.

However, Britain’s largest distributor of building materials, Travis Perkins (TPK.L), rose 3.1% even as it said its total revenue in the first three weeks of April was down two-thirds from the same period last year due to the health crisis.

Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Sriraj Kalluvila

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