London’s FTSE 100 index had reversed earlier gains to trade down 1.9% and below the 5,000 mark by lunchtime after a choppy start on Thursday.

Initially stocks were supported by a jump in the shares of tobacco company British American Tobacco (BATS) and a weaker pound as London braced for a virtual shutdown due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

British American Tobacco puffed 22.5p higher to £27.233 after it said yesterday that the coronavirus outbreak has not had any material impact.

Luxury goods leader Burberry (BRBY) rallied 6.2% to £11.72 despite warning sales in the final weeks of March would plunge by around 70%-to-80% versus last year, as coronavirus caused shops to shut and luxury goods demand to dry up.

Famed for its trench coats and check scarves, Burberry expects overall fourth quarter sales to be 30% lower, although the market welcomed management’s confidence in its strategy and the insistence Burberry is ‘protecting key growth initiatives in preparation for a recovery in luxury demand’.

Clothing colossus Next (NXT) cheapened 5.2% to £36.50 after warning the industry faces an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak yet insisting its balance sheet and margins would help it weather the storm.

Grocery delivery solutions firm Ocado (OCDO) softened 5.7% to £13.95 on disappointment that the impact of higher basket values and order demand amid growing public concern over the coronavirus was ‘limited’ in the first quarter at Ocado Retail, its joint venture with Marks & Spencer (MKS), although second quarter growth is so far double that of the first quarter.

Health, safety and environmental technology developer Halma (HLMA) was off 1.7% at £17.48 following a profit warning blamed on the coronavirus outbreak in the fourth quarter that undid the ‘good’ progress made during the last six months.

Online brokerage IG (IGG) improved 2.2% to 627.6p on the news revenue increase by more than fifth in the third quarter of the year, driven by a ‘significant’ increase in active clients and trading activity in volatile markets. For the three months to 29 February 2020, revenue was £139.8m, 29% higher than in the same period in the prior year.

Automotive retailer Auto Trader (AUTO) reversed 3% to 358.4p after warning it would record operating loss in the range of £6m-to-£7m in the next fiscal year amid actions to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on its clients.

Find out how to deal online from £1.50 in a SIPP, ISA or Dealing account.

Issue Date: 19 Mar 2020