Data suggesting the variant is not as severe as feared pushes index close to pre-pandemic levels
Last modified on Fri 24 Dec 2021 09.01 EST
The UK’s benchmark stock market index hit a 22-month high on Friday, coming within touching distance of the levels seen in February 2020 just before stock markets around the world were sent into a tailspin by the first European lockdown.
The FTSE 100 hit an intra-day high of 7,403.65 points – surpassing the previous post-lockdown high that it hit last month – before slipping back one point to close at a Christmas Eve loss.
Traders on the London Stock Exchange downed tools at 12:30pm on Friday to mark Christmas Eve, while exchanges across much of Europe were closed.
Markets have been boosted in recent days by data suggesting that the latest variant of concern, Omicron, is not as severe as previously thought. British Airways owner International Airlines Group was among the biggest gainers, up 1.9%, while hotels group Intercontinental also edged up by 1.2% – both are particularly sensitive to pandemic restrictions.
The cautious optimism around Omicron has helped the FTSE 100 to gain 4.4% so far during December. That would be its best month since November 2020, when news of Pfizer’s first successful vaccine prompted a global rally.
The morning rally left the FTSE just shy of its closing point on Friday 21 February 2020 of 7,403.92 – the day Italy imposed a lockdown in the regions of Lombardy and Padua, sending markets around the world plummeting when they reopened the next Monday. The value of the FTSE 100 companies dropped by £62bn that day.
Investors look out for a “Santa rally” on markets at the end of the year, as the low volumes combine with other factors that may include end-of-year portfolio adjustments. The S&P 500, Wall Street’s benchmark, appeared to catch that mood with a fresh record high on Thursday, although the positive sentiment faded on the FTSE 100 on Friday.
Fawad Razaqzada, an analyst at ThinkMarkets, an investment website, said markets had rallied in the last week thanks to optimism over Omicron. People with the variant are estimated to be between 31% and 45% less likely to attend A&E compared with the Delta variant, and 50% to 70% less likely to be require admission to hospital, the UK Health Security Agency reported on Thursday.
Razaqzada said: “Judging by the stock market rally this week, it appears as though investors are still confident that the ongoing recovery from the pandemic recession can survive the Omicron wave.”
Chris Beauchamp, an analyst at IG, a trading platform, said: “The FTSE 100 has not had as stellar a year as some, but the recovery to 7,400 today puts it in good stead for the year ahead, and means a run at the pre-pandemic highs could still be possible if Omicron concerns can be kept under control and earnings continue to recover in the fashion they have throughout 2021.”
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