Europe Markets: European stocks struggle as Brexit fears overshadow COVID-19 vaccine milestone

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European stocks were mixed early on Tuesday, despite the first people in the U.K. being vaccinated against COVID-19, as the post-Brexit trade deadlock continued to weigh on sentiment.   

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index SXXP, -0.25% was 0.1% down in early trading, while the German DAX DAX, -0.19% was flat, and the French CAC PX1, -0.52% edged 0.3% lower. The FTSE 100 UKX, -0.44% dipped 0.3%, as post-Brexit trade deal talks continued to occupy the minds of investors. The internationally-exposed index was protected from further losses, in part, by the pound GBPUSD, -0.23%, which fell 0.2% as uncertainty over a potential ‘no-deal’ outcome mounted.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels for a face-to-face meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the coming days, with the chances of a deal still in the balance. The rising prospect of a ‘no-deal’ scenario when the transition period ends on Dec. 31 sent European stocks lower on Monday, and has kept them under pressure early on Tuesday.

Asian markets fell overnight, following Wall Street lower, as surging cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. dented optimism. Investors were also left waiting for news of a new coronavirus-financial-aid package to bridge the gap for Americans until a vaccine is widely available. U.S. stock futures pointed lower early on Tuesday, with Dow futures YM00, -0.27% 0.2% down, implying a 44-point loss for the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the open. 

However, there was some vaccine optimism to be found, as the U.K. began its rollout of the vaccine from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer PFE, +2.26% and its German partner BioNTech BNTX, +4.75%. Margaret Keenan, 90, was the first person to be given the jab, as she was injected at University Hospital in Coventry, England, shortly after 6.30 a.m. GMT.

Keenan, who turns 91 next week, told the BBC: “I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s the best early birthday present I could wish for, because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.” She was followed by 81-year-old William Shakespeare from Warwickshire.

The U.K. has received 800,000 doses, enough for 400,000 people, and is expecting to have 4 million by the end of the year. People over the age of 80 and health-care staff are being given priority in the initial stages of the mass immunization program.

Shares in Ashtead AHT, +3.10% rose more than 4%, as the construction-equipment company raised its full-year guidance after a “resilient” performance in the first half of the year.

Electricity suppliers SSE SSE, +2.53% and National Grid NG, +1.47% were among the FTSE 100’s sharpest risers, after the regulator Ofgem cut the returns that energy networks can give to shareholders by less than previously announced.

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