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What to watch: Airlines slide on UK quarantine, Halfords jumps on cycling boost, and stocks rise

EasyJet aircrafts parked on the tarmac of the Geneve Aeroport, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

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

Airlines slide on UK traveller quarantine

Airline stocks fell on Monday after confirmation that visitors to the UK will face a 14-day quarantine in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Boris Johnson confirmed the measure in his television address to the nation on Sunday evening, without giving details of when such restrictions would come into place

Analysts at Citi Bank said easyJet (EZJ.L) may have to raise between £700m ($870m) and £1bn to survive the quarantine measures. The stock was the biggest faller on the FTSE 100, falling 7.5%.

Citi said British Airways owner IAG (IAG.L) may also have to raise fresh funds. The stock was down 2.4%.

Heathrow said the quarantine proposals would “effectively close borders temporarily.”

It came as Heathrow said passenger numbers fell 97% in April to just 200,000 people — the same number who would typically visit the airport in just one day.

“Aviation is the lifeblood of this country's economy, and until we get Britain flying again, UK business will be stuck in third gear,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a statement.

“The government needs to urgently lay out a roadmap for how they will reopen borders once the disease has been beaten, and to take an immediate lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for health in aviation that will allow passengers who don't have the infection to travel freely."

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh will appear before parliament’s transport committee at 10am UK time on Monday to answer questions about the state of the industry and job losses at IAG.

Halfords jumps on cycling boost

Shares in bike and car part retailer Halford surged on Monday after the government urged the public to cycle and walk to work.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Saturday (9 May) the government would spend £250m improving cycling and walking infrastructure.

It came as Shapps urged the public to cycle and walk more in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whilst it's crucial that we stay at home, when the country does get back to work we need to ask those people to carry on cycling or walking and for them to be joined by many others as well,” Shapps said during the government’s daily press conference.

Halfords’ (HFD.L) stock jumped 17% in response, making it the biggest riser on the FTSE all-share index.

Stocks rise as Johnson sets out lockdown exit roadmap

European stock markets opened higher on Monday, as economies around the world continued to tentatively reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) rose 0.6% in London. It came after prime minister Boris Johnson announced tentative easing of the UK’s lockdown. Construction and manufacturing staff were told to go back to work from this week.

Non-essential shops and schools could reopen in June if infection and death rates improve, while restaurants could follow in July.

Meanwhile, the CAC 40 (^FCHI) rose 0.2% in Paris. French shops, hair salons, primary schools, and nurseries are set to reopen to the public from today. In Germany, the DAX (^GDAXI) climbed 0.3%.

Stocks largely rallied overnight in Asia. Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) rose 1%, the Hong Hang Seng (^HSI) climbed 1.4%, and China’s Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) was flat. South Korea’s KOSPI (^KOSPI) fell 0.5%. Fresh COVID-19 outbreaks have been recorded in Wuhan, China, and South Korea.

Futures were pointing to a higher open in New York later today. S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were up 0.1%, Dow Jones futures (YM=F) were up 0.3%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were 0.3% higher.

But easing plan criticised as ‘recipe for disaster’

The UK government’s call for an immediate return to work for those who cannot work from home has been dubbed a “recipe for chaos.”

Union, business and opposition leaders all demanded more guidance on safety in workplaces after prime minister Boris Johnson’s message to the nation on Sunday (10 May). Critics also warned over safety and severely limited capacity on public transport for commuters.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4 the speech left millions of workers in an “uncertain position” over whether to go to work if they felt unsafe on Monday. Construction and manufacturing workers are among those most likely to be affected as growing numbers of sites reopen.

High street footfall plummets

The amount of people visiting shops last month has fallen to the lowest levels since records began as coronavirus forced consumers to stay at home.

Footfall in April was down 80%, even lower than March when it dropped by 41%, according to statistics provided by Springboard Research.

City and town centres were the worst affected areas, while people also stayed away from shopping centres and retail parks.

Saudi Arabia triples VAT

Saudi Arabia is hiking taxes and slashing public spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government news agency said on Monday the state was taking measures worth 100bn Saudi riyals ($26.6bn, £21.5bn) in a bid to shore up public finances.

Key measures include increasing value added tax (VAT) from 5% to 15% from July 2020 and the axing of a cost of living allowance for all state workers. The allowance is worth 1,000 riyals ($267, £214) per month and will be stopped from the start of June.

A new ministerial committee has been established to review spending on benefits for all state employees and contractors, while Riyadh is also cancelling some state spending including on the country’s much-publicised Vision 2030 modernisation project.

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