The omicron variant has stock markets spooked

Not in the green.
Not in the green.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Winning
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In light of a new covid variant emerging in southern Africa, named omicron by the WHO, the UK revived its red list and several European countries reinstated travel bans against six African countries today (Nov. 26).

The FTSE 350 travel and leisure index, comprising of large UK-listed stocks in that sector, tumbled sharply to its lowest in over a year.

The pan-European Stoxx 600, which comprises 600 listed companies across 17 European countries, tumbled more than 3% in early trade, as market sentiment soured for several travel-related businesses.

Shares of several hotels and airlines took a beating: Intercontinental Hotel and Premier Inn-owner Whitbread fell more than 6%. Airlines British Airways, German carrier Lufthansa, and jet engine maker Rolls-Royce, all registered double digit drops. Plane makers Airbus and Boeing also slid more than 10% and 6% respectively. Cruise line operator Carnival’s shares dipped more than 14%.

“Headlines calling it the ‘worst ever variant’ have caused investors to panic and dump shares in travel-related stocks for fear that we’re going to see tough travel restrictions once again,” AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould told Barrons. “This is the worst possible news for airline operators as they were just starting to see a pick-up in trading, helped by people becoming more comfortable about traveling on a plane and routes like US-UK reopening.’

With fewer flights, activity at airports will slim down too. Consequently, travel-related retailers were caught in the crossfire. British retailer WH Smith, which operates in airports and train stations, was down 12% and duty-free store operator Dufry was down 13%.

In a statement asking the UK to reconsider the ban, south Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation Naledi Pandor expressed concern about “the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries.”

Over in Asia, too, stock markets posted sharp drops after countries like Singapore and Japan put in place travel curbs against African countries.