What to Watch: Businesses shut down across UK, stocks rebound, and Europe faces sharp slowdown

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
A notice informs customers of the closure of a clothing store on Carnaby Street in London, England. (David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Businesses shut down across the UK

Businesses across the UK are shutting down on Tuesday, after prime minister Boris Johnson told all non-essential shops to shut and ordered the public to stay indoors as much as possible.

In a nationwide address late on Monday, Johnson said a full lockdown of the UK was necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Thousands of businesses are shutting down for the foreseeable future as a result. Several major companies put out statements confirming they were shutting operations.

Sofa retailer ScS (SCS.L) said it had temporarily closed all its showrooms and distribution network.

Games Workshop (GAW.L) said it would be “temporarily closing globally all of our stores, headquarters, factory and warehouses with immediate effect”.

Mulberry (MUL.L) said it closed all its UK stores on Saturday and is reviewing the impact of the latest guidelines on the rest of its operations.

Furnishings retailer Dunelm (DNLM.L) had already shut shops but said it would end click and collect services in light of the Prime Minister’s statement.

UK restaurant operator Tasty (TAST.L), which runs 56 restaurants in the UK including branches of dim sum restaurant Dim T and pizza chain Wildwood, said it was shutting all customer operations.

Meanwhile, Sports Direct was forced into a U-turn over store openings. Management wrote to staff shortly soon after the prime minister’s announcement saying stores would remain open “to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis.”

However, that decision was quickly reversed and Frasers Group (FRAS.L), which owns Sports Direct, said shops would not open on Monday.

Stocks rebound

Stocks in Europe rose on Monday as investors looked to a UK-wide lockdown and signs of progress on a US stimulus package as potential turning points in the coronavirus pandemic.

Late on Monday, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US senate, and US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said they were close to a deal on a $2tn (£1.7tn) stimulus package designed to shield the world’s largest economy from the fallout.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX) climbed by around 3.8%. London’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) rose by around 3.2%.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was up by around 4.5%, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was 3.5% in the green.

The strong opening in Europe followed a gains for stocks in Asia.

China’s SSE Composite Index (^SSEC) rose by more than 2.3% on Tuesday, while the Hang Seng (^HSI) was up by almost 4.5% in Hong Kong at market close.

Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) rose by around 7%, while the KOSPI Composite Index (^KOSPI) in South Korea closed 8.6% in the green. Australia’s ASX 200 (^AXJO) rose by almost 4.2%.

In the US, S&P 500 futures (ES=F) rose by around 4.2%, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) climbed by more than 3.9%, while Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were up by more than 4%.

Europe faces sharp slowdown

Business activity in the eurozone plunged at the fastest pace ever in March, as the 19-member common currency area contended with the spiralling impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

A closely watched survey by IHS Markit found that the economy suffered an unprecedented collapse in activity, with the sector’s purchasing managers’ index reading coming in at 31.4, far below analyst expectations.

PMIs are an indicator of private sector activity and are given on a scale of 1 to 100. Anything above 50 signals growth, while anything below means contraction.

The contraction in March is larger than that seen during the peak of the financial crisis, which saw the index hit 36.2 in February 2009.

JD Wetherspoon boss tells staff to consider work at Tesco

The boss of pub chain JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) has told staff they could face delays being paid and urged them to consider taking a job at supermarkets like Tesco (TSCO.L) instead.

In a video sent to staff this week, Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin said his company would be making use of the new government wage subsidy scheme but warned staff they would likely face delays in being paid through it.

“The government promised to pay about 80% of wages,” Martin said in the video, which was reviewed by Yahoo Finance UK. “There’ll probably be some delays to paying it for which I also apologise but I feel sure they’re going to come through on their promise.”

In the meantime, Martin said Wetherspoon’s 40,000 staff could consider looking for work at a supermarket.

“We’ve had lots of calls from supermarkets,” he said. “Tesco alone want 20,000 people to join them. That’s half the number of people who work in our pubs.”

Coronavirus could cost travel insurers record £275m

An estimated £275m ($319m) will be paid out by UK travel insurers for claims made in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, according to industry calculations.

This is the expected total as payouts continue over the coming weeks and months, with the vast majority of payouts being for cancellations, according to The Association of British Insurers (ABI), which made the calculation.

Approximately 400,000 coronavirus claims are expected, the highest number on record. This is compared with 294,000 cancellation and disruption claims received in the whole of 2010, which previously saw the most annual claims.