The FTSE 100 has recorded its biggest one-day fall in four years as growing fears about the coronavirus prompted a global stock market sell off.
London’s leading share index closed 247 points, or 3.34%, lower – a bigger decline than it suffered on the day after the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
It came as investors across the globe hit the sell button, with New York’s Dow Jones Industrial Average closing more than 1,000 points, or 3.6%, lower on Monday – its biggest fall for two years.
Trading screens turned red after COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, took hold in countries beyond China over the weekend – threatening to inflict deeper damage on the world economy.
The lockdown ordered in Italy because of the virus appeared to have shaken traders who until now have been much more relaxed about its global repercussions.
Italy’s prime minister Guiseppe Conte said the economic impact “could be very strong”.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: “Italy’s lockdown, as the country tries to control the worst outbreak of the virus in Europe, has caused investors to panic about how business and society will be affected.
“A large spike in coronavirus cases in South Korea has also added to market concerns.
“There has been so much complacency in recent weeks from investors, despite clear signs that China’s economy is facing a large hit and that supply chains around the world were being disrupted.”
In London, the FTSE 100 was down by as much as almost 300 points, or nearly 4%, during the session, before recovering some of those losses by the close.
Travel-related stocks led the fallers, with easyJet losing nearly 17% and holiday operator TUI down 10%.
British Airways-owner IAG was more than 9% lower while hotel stocks also felt significant pain.
Mining giants such as Anglo American and Rio Tinto – whose fortunes have been closely tied to China’s rapid economic expansion in recent times – took a big hit too.
In the US, tech giants were among the big fallers with Apple down nearly 5%, and Microsoft and Amazon each off by more than 4%.
Brent crude oil – a good barometer of sentiment in the global economy – was trading more than 5% lower at just over $55 a barrel during the session.
Gold, a traditional safe haven for investors in times of turbulence, hit its highest level since January 2013.
The risk-off session was blamed on several nations reporting rising COD-19 infection and death rates over the weekend.
They included South Korea, Iran and Italy – the latter a major destination for flight operators such as easyJet.
Ryanair shares were almost 14% down.
Italy’s MIB index lost more than 5% while declines in Germany and France were also sharp in wider European trading.
David Madden, analyst at CMC Markets, said: “The fear is that we could be looking at a scenario where the virus spreads aggressively in this part of the world too, so traders have the perfect excuse to take profits and get out of stocks because it wasn’t that long ago that they were at fairly lofty levels.”
South Korea’s KOSPI stock market shed 3% on news of seven deaths and 700 COVID-19 infections there.
Reported death rates in China are falling – but restrictions on businesses and the movement of people, which have been in place for over a month, have left the world’s second-largest economy spluttering.
A growing list of businesses in the UK have reported disruption – from Jaguar Land Rover to the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.