The FTSE 100 Index plunged by nearly 2% today as Irish bailout fears and Korean military tensions rattled investors’ confidence.
The London market closed 99.5 points down at 5581.3 – its lowest level in more than a month – with banking and mining stocks leading the retreat.
The latest shock for markets came when it emerged North Korea had fired dozens of artillery rounds into rival South Korea’s territory. South Korea later said it had returned fire.
The volatile climate sparked a move to safer investments such as the US dollar - which rose against most major currencies and led to a drop in commodity prices.
The pound was consequently down against the greenback at 1.58, but the political unrest in Ireland saw sterling up against the euro at 1.18.
Mining stocks featured heavily on the fallers board with Vedanta Resources down 101p to 2120p, Kazakhmys 49p lower at 1391p and Antofagasta off 58p at 1317p.
Meanwhile, investors said the Irish bailout, which is expected to amount to around €90bn, would do little to shield other heavily indebted countries from a potential collapse in investor confidence.
This kept banking stocks under pressure for much of the session, with Lloyds Banking Group 0.6p lower at 63.3p and Barclays down 5.8p to 264.2p, although Royal Bank of Scotland fought back to stand 0.2p higher at 40p.
On the results front, Severn Trent rose in the FTSE 100 Index after it announced plans for annual dividend growth of RPI inflation plus 3%. The company is cutting the pay-out for this financial year due to the impact of Ofwat price controls, which contributed to a fall in half-year profits today. Shares in Severn Trent, which have risen around 25% this year, rose 9p to 1450p.
In the FTSE 250 Index, pubs group Mitchells & Butlers fell 3% despite a 26% rise in full-year profits and a surge in food sales at the start of its new financial year. Investors were disappointed by the company’s failure to reinstate its dividend, leading to a fall in shares of 9.2p to 344.6p.
Bank note printer De La Rue was also lower, down 9% or 65.5p to 557.5p, after reporting a sharp fall in underlying half-year profits due to irregularities in paper production at a factory this year. It said the financial impact of the problems remained unclear.
Housebuilders also occupied the second tier fallers board after the British Bankers’ Association said mortgage approvals for house purchase slumped to a 19-month low during October as buyers continued to stay away from the market.
Shares in Taylor Wimpey fell 1p to 24.2p and Barratt Developments declined 3.8p to 70.9p, while Persimmon eased 12.6p to 338.4p, a drop of 3%.
The biggest Footsie risers were Fresnillo up 21p at 1425p, Rolls-Royce ahead 8p at 598.5p, Randgold Resources up 65p at 6070p and Royal Bank of Scotland ahead 0.2p at 40p.
The biggest Footsie fallers were Man Group down 14p at 274.5p, Vedanta Resources off 101p at 2120p, Antofagasta down 58p at 1317p and Legal & General off 3.5p at 91.3p.