British stocks fall on COVID-19 risks; Signature Aviation, JD Sports surge

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British stocks fall on COVID-19 risks; Signature Aviation, JD Sports surge

(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* Signature Aviation surges 7% on takeover deal

* Next few weeks of the pandemic will be the worst – Whitty

* JD Sports jumps on higher full year profit forecast

* FTSE 100 down 1.1%, FTSE 250 drops 1.4% (Updates to close)

Jan 11 (Reuters) – London stocks ended lower on Monday as rising coronavirus cases across Europe stoked worries about its near-term economic impact, while Signature Aviation jumped on reaching an agreement for a takeover deal with Global Infrastructure Partners.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index fell 1.1%, after gaining for five consecutive sessions, with auto healthcare and mining stocks leading the declines.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain was in “a race against time” to roll out vaccines as deaths hit record highs and hospitals ran out of oxygen. His top medical adviser Chris Whitty said the pandemic’s worst weeks were imminent.

Miners Rio Tinto and BHP Group were the top drags on the index, as metal prices dropped on demand worries fueled by surging coronavirus cases in top metals consumer China.

“COVID-19 risks have taken centerstage again after last week’s rally and the only reason why the FTSE 100 has not fallen further today is because the pound has taken most of the heat,” said Connor Campbell, a financial analyst at SpreadEx.

The British pound dropped 0.5% against the U.S. dollar to its lowest level since Dec. 29 due to concerns about the spread of the virus in the country, while global cases of COVID-19 surpassed 90 million.

The mid-cap index ended 1.4% lower, led by weakness in consumer stocks, while JD Sports was the top gainer on the index after it forecast its full-year profit to be “significantly ahead” of market expectations.

“It demonstrates the fact that retail spending itself has held up reasonably well despite the crisis – it’s just that sales have shifted from physical stores to the internet,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

Signature Aviation jumped 7.2% after Global Infrastructure Partners, the former owner of London’s Gatwick Airport, reached an agreement to buy the company for about $4.63 billion, trumping an approach from Blackstone Group. (Reporting by Shashank Nayar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and David Gregorio)

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