Weaker pound, defensive stocks boost FTSE 100; AstraZeneca rises

Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London

By Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S

(Reuters) - London's FTSE 100 index ended higher on Monday on a weaker pound and as gains in defensive stocks outweighed declines in commodity-linked and travel shares, while drugmaker AstraZeneca jumped on upbeat U.S. trial results.

The FTSE 100 index recouped its early losses and ended 0.3% higher, with dollar-earning consumer staples stocks, including Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser Group, British American Tobacco and Diageo Plc gaining between 0.3% and 2,5%, on the weaker pound.

Healthcare stocks were also among the biggest gainers, with AstraZeneca up 3.3% after the drugmaker's COVID-19 vaccine was found 79% effective in a large U.S. trial at preventing symptomatic illness, and was 100% effective against severe or critical disease and hospitalisation.

Meanwhile, travel and leisure stocks were among the top fallers.

British Airways-owner IAG, down 5.2%, was the biggest faller in the index after social care minister Helen Whately warned that Britons should wait before booking summer holidays abroad, pointing out that there were rising COVID-19 infection rates in Europe.

"The risk, and one being increasingly acknowledged by government ministers, is this summer is even worse than last for the travel space as the UK keeps restrictions in place to avoid undermining its hard-won success with the vaccine," said Russ Mould, AJ Bell investment director.

The FTSE 100 has rebounded nearly 37% from a coronavirus-driven crash last year on vaccine-led optimism, but has struggled to reach pre-pandemic highs as commodity prices, lockdown measures and rising U.S. bond yields weigh.

Oil heavyweights BP and Royal Dutch Shell also weighed on the index.

The domestically focused mid-cap FTSE 250 index gained 0.2%, supported by tech and bank stocks.

Home improvement retailer Kingfisher rose 3.6% to the top of the blue-chip index, after posting a 44% jump in full-year profit driven by the popularity of do-it-yourself projects during the pandemic.

(Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Jane Merriman)