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What to watch: Manufacturing slumps, banks cut dividends, stocks fall

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Workers on the production line at Nissan's factory in Sunderland. (PA)

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

UK manufacturing sector slumps at fastest rate in eight years

UK manufacturing output and new orders have declined at the fastest rate in eight years due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey of business leaders.

Data provider IHS Markit said on Wednesday its closely watched purchasing managers’s index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector fell to 47.8 in March.

The index is measured on a scale of 0 to 100, with anything above 50 signalling growth and anything below signalling contraction. It slipped into contraction from a reading of 51.7 in February.

“The latest survey numbers underscore how the global outbreak of COVID-19 is causing huge disruptions to production, demand and supply chains at UK manufacturers,” said Rob Dobson, Director at IHS Markit.

Dobson said factories were facing shortages of part as supply chains are disrupted. New orders are also diving as the global economy freezes over.

German manufacturing output plunges to record low since financial crisis

Germany’s export-dependent manufacturing sector took a blow in March as the coronavirus pandemic has caused factory closures and dented demand.

IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers' Index for manufacturing in Germany, released today, dropped to 45.4 in March from 48.0 in February — below 50 marks a contraction.

The March PMI data is the biggest drop in output for the country’s heavyweight manufacturing sector since the financial crisis in 2009.

"There's scope for the numbers to get even worse before they get better, as most containment measures and factory shutdowns happened either during or after the survey data was collected [between 12-24 March]," said Phil Smith, principal economist at IHS Markit.

Banks forced to axe dividends and may cut bonuses 

Shares in UK banks dropped sharply on Wednesday 1 April, after the UK’s biggest lenders gave in to pressure from regulators to scrap their dividends for the year.

HSBC (HSBA.L), Lloyds (LLOY.L), Barclays (BARC.L), Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), Santander, and Standard Chartered (STAN.L) released separate statements on Wednesday saying they would cancel any outstanding dividend payments. The banks also ruled out any other payouts for the remainder of 2020 and axed share buybacks.

In total, the announcements mean around £7.6bn of dividends been axed by banks, according to stockbroker AJ Bell’s investment director Russ Mould.

Several of the announcements from banks referenced formal requests from the Bank of England and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), a division of the central bank that oversees lenders.

European stocks fall as Trump warns of 'very painful two weeks'

European stocks fell on Wednesday after dire warnings from US president Donald Trump raised fears that the coronavirus pandemic would cause a global recession.

Late on Tuesday, Trump warned that the US faces a “very very painful two weeks,” while scientists cautioned that the virus could kill up to 240,000 Americans.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX) was down by around 2.7%. London’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) fell by more than 3.5%.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) declined by around 3%, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was 3.3% in the red.

What to expect in the US

Futures were also pointing to a lower open for US stocks on Wednesday.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) fell by around 2.8%, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) were down by 2.8%, while Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were down by almost 2.5%.