FTSE plunges 5%

Another dire day for blue-chip stocks saw the FTSE 100 Index plunge more than 5% today to hit its lowest level in more than five years.

London’s top-flight index closed 218.2 points down at 3861.4 – a level not seen since April 2003 – as concerns of a global recession mounted.

The fall follows yesterday’s 7.2% plunge on the Footsie and is mirrored by equally large declines across Europe, with the Dax in Germany down 5% and the CAC 40 in France nursing a 6% fall.

The London market had pulled back briefly ahead of the US opening on hopes of some support on Wall Street, but early falls on the Dow Jones Industrial Average put paid to the brief rebound.

In London, Thomson owner TUI Travel was one of the leading blue-chip fallers, down 22% or 55.35p to 194.4p, after its German part-owner said it had no intention of taking outright control of the group. Speculation over such a move caused shares to rally last week.

Building-related firms also suffered some heavy losses after FTSE 250 firm Travis Perkins lowered its profits guidance and said the recent financial turmoil had quickened the downturn in its sector. It is unlikely to pay a dividend for this year, causing shares to fall 31% or 150.75p to 330.25p.

In the top flight, B&Q owner Kingfisher was down 11.2p to 106.8p and building and plumbing supplies rival Wolseley lost 60.75p to 285.25p, or 18%.

Sentiment across the retail sector was weak, with Next down 94.5p at 862p. Among the supermarkets, Tesco was off 17.1p at 317.9p and Sainsbury’s 12.25p cheaper at 245p after brokers at Merrill Lynch lowered their target prices on both firms.

Continued speculation that elements of the Government’s £37bn (€47.5bn) banking bail-out package may be reworked saw mixed fortunes for the banks involved.

Royal Bank of Scotland remained unchanged at 65p, with Lloyds TSB seeing a limited fall of 0.2p at 150p. But Lloyds’ merger partner HBOS remained in the doldrums, slipping 1.6p to 84.1p, while Barclays was off 26p at 213.5p – a fall of nearly 11%.

Further falls in crude oil prices today on demand concerns weighed again on the petrochemical majors. As oil slid to below 70 US dollars a barrel at one stage - less than half its July peak – BP shed 16.75p to 397.5p and Royal Dutch Shell was 112p lighter at 1235p.

In the FTSE 250 Index, Britvic shares were up 7% or 12.25p to 184.25p after the drinks firm defied weak consumer conditions with a sales gain of 4.8% for the year to September 28.

But elsewhere the UK’s biggest horseracing operator Arena Leisure fell 13% or 3.5p to 24.5p after warning of significantly lower profits this year as attendances fall.

The biggest Footsie risers were Rexam up 13.25p at 309.5p, Centrica up 3.5p at 285.75p, Severn Trent ahead by 10p at 1266p and National Grid up 3.5p at 636.5p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Thomas Cook down 44p at 145.2p, TUI Travel down 55.35p at 194.4p, Old Mutual off 13.7p at 49.6p and Prudential down 72.25p at 297.75p.

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