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London Markets: U.K. unemployment rate drops again, as British stocks open at highest level since February 2020


The U.K. unemployment rate fell to 4.7% in the February to April period, government data showed, marking the fourth straight month of declines after the key labor figure was measured at 4.8% between January and March.

“The latest figures suggest that the jobs market is showing signs of recovery,” said the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, or ONS, on Tuesday.

Payrolls data were also upbeat, with the number of payrolled employees increasing for the sixth consecutive month in May to 28.5 million. While that is an increase of 197,000 over the month prior, the number of payrolled employees remains more than half a million below levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ONS said.

In addition, the ONS said the number of job vacancies in the period from March to May was 758,000 — just 27,000 below pre-pandemic levels in January to March 2020.

Strong data met an otherwise upbeat day for markets in London, where the FTSE 100

— the index of the U.K.’s top stocks by market capitalization — rose 0.5% after opening at the highest level since February 2020.

Shares in companies exposed to changes in government COVID-19 restrictions — such as retailers, airlines, and travel groups — were among the biggest movers. On Monday, the U.K. government announced that the planned full easing of lockdown measures and restrictions on movement on June 21 would be delayed until July 19

The news on Monday sent shares in the likes of Associated British Foods

tumbling. The owner of fashion retailer Primark offers only in-store shopping, with no online option for customers, and as such is highly sensitive to social-distancing measures. But ABF was the biggest riser in the FTSE 100 on Tuesday, as analysts pointed to helpful clarity over the extension of the restrictions.

“Although social distancing will be extended, a full stop is in sight and that’s helped bring a big dollop of Tuesday motivation to companies worst hit by lockdowns,” said Susannah Streeter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “The glass half full attitude among investors has helped lift the FTSE 100 again to the highest level in just over five weeks,” she added.

Shares in airlines easyJet
Wizz Air
and International Airlines Group

— the owner of British Airways — all ticked up, recouping losses from Monday, as did engineer Rolls-Royce
which is highly dependent on revenues from aircraft-servicing contracts.

The price of copper fell, with copper futures

down more than 3.5%. The London-listed mining giants that are major producers of copper dropped in tandem, with shares falling in Anglo American
Rio Tinto
and BHP


stock rose more than 1%, after the online fashion retailer reported revenue in the first quarter of £486 million ($683 million), up 32% from £368 million in the same period in the year prior and ahead of analysts’ expectations.

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