What to watch: Italy and Spain short-selling bans, Norwegian job cuts, stocks rise

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
The Italian stock exchange in Milan. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Italy and Spain ban short-selling of dozens of stocks

Italy and Spain on Friday imposed a ban on the short-selling of dozens of stocks following Thursday’s stark global sell-off.

The Spanish regulator said that its short-selling prohibition would apply to 69 specific stocks, including all of those whose share prices fell by more than 10% on Thursday.

Stocks on the country’s benchmark IBEX 35 index (^IBEX) fell by 14% on Thursday.

In Italy, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, a similar ban on short-selling, which causes share prices to fall, will apply to 85 stocks.

The country’s FTSE.MIB index (FTSEMIB.MI) fell by 17% on Thursday, the steepest decline of any European index.

Short-selling — also known as shorting — sees an investor borrow shares only to immediately sell them, in the hopes that they can purchase them later at a lower price, return them to the party they originally borrowed them from, and profit the difference.

Norwegian says half its staff could face layoffs

Norwegian has announced up to half its workforce could face “temporary layoffs” as it cancelled more flights over the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline (NAS.OL) grounded 40% of its long-haul fleet on Friday, highlighting the impact of the outbreak and US ban on travel from most European countries. Up to a quarter of short-haul flights will also be cancelled until the end of May.

Its chief executive Jacob Schram said new travel restrictions “imposed further pressure on an already difficult situation” as booking numbers have fallen.

The Oslo-listed company said a “dramatic drop” in customers had forced it to cut costs. It said as many as 50% of employees would be temporarily laid off, without giving further details on what it means for staff or numbers affected.

It has more than 1,200 pilots and cabin crew based in the UK alone.

A statement released late on Thursday said the majority of its long-haul flights to the US from Amsterdam, Madrid, Oslo, Stockholm, Barcelona and Paris would be cancelled.

Investment firm Apollo's London staff working from home

London staff at $330bn (£262bn) private equity giant Apollo Global have recently begun working from home amid fears about coronavirus, executives said on a call Thursday.

Jim Zelter, co-president of Apollo, told investors on a call that all of the company’s Asia-based staff and those in London were already working remotely. Apollo has a London office in the elite Mayfair neighbourhood.

Zelter said Apollo was testing remote working in the US and was confident it could keep operating if staff are forced to work from home.

“The pipes are all working and we are open for business,” he told investors.

Apollo is one of the biggest private equity companies in the world, with $331bn of assets under management. As well as private equity, Apollo also invests in credit markets and real estate.

The move to send staff home comes as the UK ramps up precautions to stem the spread of COVID-19. Some companies, such as JP Morgan, have already executed contingency plans.

BT boss diagnosed with coronavirus

The head of BT has tested positive for the coronavirus, but will continue to work from home in self-isolation.

Philip Jansen, chief executive of the group (BT-A.L), was diagnosed on Thursday afternoon.

He said his symptoms “seem relatively mild,” but went public to alert anyone he was recently been in contact with. He said in a statement released via BT that he had met “several industry partners” this week alone.

Jansen also said there would be “no disruption” to the business, as he has isolated himself at home but will continue to work remotely this week.

The company is in contact with Public Health England and plans to undertake a “full deep clean” of relevant parts of its headquarters in central London.

European stocks rise after US Fed vow

European stocks rose on Friday after the US Federal Reserve pledged to pump trillions into the financial system in the wake of Thursday’s huge market sell-off.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX), which had its worst day on record on Thursday due to deepening coronavirus panic, was up by almost 4.5% on Friday morning.

London’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE), which suffered its worst losses since 1987, rose by more than 4.9%.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was up by 3.8% and France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI), which also experienced sharp declines on Thursday, rose by around 4.6%.

What to expect in the US

Futures were also pointing to a higher open for US stocks, which also suffered their worst day since 1987 on Thursday.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) climbed by 4.1%, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) rose by almost 4%, while Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were up by more than 4.7% on Friday.