UK shares end shortened week on upbeat note

(Reuters) - Britain’s stock markets ended a shortened week on a positive note on Thursday as a surprise rise in Chinese exports fed into hopes for a swift recovery from a coronavirus-led recession.

FILE PHOTO: The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London, Britain, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

With UK markets closed on Friday for a public holiday, the blue-chip FTSE 100 .FTSE rose 1.4% by the close to wrap up a second consecutive week of gains.

The domestically oriented mid-cap index .FTMC rose 1.7%.

Banks, miners, oil and gas companies were among the top performer as investors took cheer from the Chinese data showing that exports rose unexpectedly in April as factories raced to make up for lost sales.

That helped markets look past the Bank of England’s dire projection that the British economy could shrink by 14% this year because of the coronavirus outbreak. That would be its biggest plunge since a ‘Great Frost’ in 1709.

The central bank, which refrained from any big moves on Thursday, kept the door open for more stimulus next month.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind equity markets these days,” said Stefan Koopman, senior market economist at Rabobank.

“But the bottom line is, it is going to hurt badly in the next couple of quarters and there has to be a point where markets will start to price in a little bit more realistically.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce a very limited easing of the country’s lockdown next week, a spokesman said, amid criticism for moving too slowly to tackle an outbreak that has led to more than 30,000 deaths in Britain.

In company news, Britain's biggest telecoms group BT BT.L tumbled 8.1% after it suspended its dividend and pulled guidance for 2020, citing the pandemic.

Its shares also took a hit as U.S. firm Liberty Global LBTYA.O and Spain's Telefonica TEF.MC agreed to merge their British businesses in a $38 billion deal to challenge market leader BT.

HSBC HSBA.L, Barclays BARC.L, Lloyds Banking Group LLOY.L and Royal Bank of Scotland RBS.L gained between 2.7% and 5.4% after a Bank of England "desk-top" stress test showed that leading banks are sufficiently robust to keep lending despite the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Insurer RSA RSA.L jumped 6.6% after it estimated its exposure to the outbreak at only 25 million pounds ($31 million) and said that most of its business-interruption policies did not provide cover for coronavirus-related claims.

Rival Phoenix Group PHNX.L gained 6.3% after confirming it would pay a dividend for 2019.

Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani, Devik Jain and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and David Goodman