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What to Watch: UK jobs boom, China virus hits stocks, easyJet soars

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
The FTSE fell on Tuesday. Photo: Matt Crossick/ EMPICS Entertainment.

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

UK employment rises but wage growth slows

The employment rate in the UK hit a new record high at the end of last year despite the political turmoil over Brexit, official figures show.

The official employment rate came in at 76.3% and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.8% between September and November.

The statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are closely watched as a sign of the underlying strength of the UK economy.

READ MORE: Wage growth slows as small firms ‘struggle to raise salaries’

Business leaders also warned small firms are “struggling to raise salaries” as official figures also showed average wage growth slowing in the UK.

New figures from surveys point to actual pay growth of 3.4% between September and November excluding bonuses, down from 3.5% between August and October.

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Stocks dive on deadly virus outbreak in China

A woman wearing a mask uses a mobile phone while waiting for a bus in Beijing. Photo: WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images

Stocks across Europe sold off on Tuesday after a fourth person died from an outbreak of a new virus spreading rapidly across China.

An 89-year-old man in the Chinese city of Wuhan had died from a new strain of coronavirus, which causes pneumonia, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Over 100 cases of the new strain of coronavirus have been reported across China since early December and China’s health authorities confirmed Monday the virus can spread human-to-human.

Fears about the spread of the deadly virus led investors to sell stocks. The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) dropped 1% in London, the German DAX (^GDAXI) traded down 0.5%, and the CAC 40 (^FCHI) in France lost 1%. The Euro Stoxx 50 (^STOXX50E) shed 0.8%.

“Fears of an extended outbreak of a new strain of Coronavirus in Asia has been driving moderate risk-off behaviour across the board, especially with markets walking into Chinese New Year at the end of the week, a period well-known for increased cross-border travel,” said Bethel Loh, a macro strategist at ThinkMarkets.

Losses were particularly heavy in Asia, with the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) sinking 2.8%, China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) falling 1.4%, and the Nikkei (^N225) down 0.9%.

Strong demand boosts easyJet

No-frills airline Easyjet (EZJ.L) raised its first-half revenue guidance on Tuesday, saying that robust passenger demand would boost its winter performance from the same period last year.

Easyjet shares rose over 2.5% in early trading on the news that the British airline now expected revenue per-seat to increase by mid-to-high single digits.

The winter half-year, from October to March, tends to be less busy, but Easyjet said a slight drop in competition in the European short-haul flight sector would also help its bottom line.

"The improvement in our revenue per seat has been driven by our self-help revenue initiatives combined with robust customer demand and a lower capacity growth market," Easyjet chief executive Johan Lundgren said in a statement.

Facebook to create 1,000 jobs in London

Facebook (FB) will create 1,000 new jobs in London by the end of 2020, with many of the new positions focussing on reducing harmful content in its communities.

The social network said most of the new jobs will be in technology-focussed areas, across software engineering, product design, and data science, as well as developing the WhatsApp app.

Many of the jobs will be in the Community Integrity (CI) team, which builds the tools used to detect and remove harmful content—tackling a diverse range of issues from spam to child abuse, bullying, and harassment.

What to expect in the US

US stocks also looked set for a lower open on Tuesday as the virus outbreak in China rattled investors, with markets re-opening after the Martin Luther King public holiday on Monday.

Dow Jones futures (YM=F) slid 0.3%, S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were down 0.4% and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were 0.5%.