By Muvija M
(Reuters) - London's FTSE 100 suffered its biggest one-day fall in nearly four months as the coronavirus spread globally with death tolls more than tripling from last week, spooking investors about the potential financial hit to travel and China-exposed companies.
The FTSE 100 index <.FTSE>, which had recovered on Friday after the World Health Organisation issued a measured assessment of the virus, stumbled 2.3%. The midcaps <.FTMC> slid 2.1%, their steepest one-day decline in more than a year.
All but three stocks ended in negative territory on the main bourse.
News that China's death toll from the coronavirus discovered at the end of last year has risen to 81 dragged an index of leisure and airline stocks <.FTNMX5750> down 2.6% to its worst day in more than three and a half years.
Roughly 6% has been wiped off the index since last week.
The sector is exposed to a slowdown in the travel market because of the outbreak, with some standout individual losers including British Airways owner IAG <ICAG.L>, which dropped 5.4%, and China-exposed luxury brand Burberry <BRBY.L>, down 4.6%.
Asia-focused financials HSBC <HSBA.L>, Prudential <PRU.L> and Standard Chartered <STAN.L> skidded 3.5%-5% as businesses shut shops and the Chinese government lengthened the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to try to contain the outbreak.
Chinese state television reported that 2,835 cases of the virus had been recorded, with countries including the United States and Singapore having confirmed the spread of the virus.
"This has the potential to really rattle markets. And with stock markets having been at or very near all-time highs before all this broke, this is a perfect selling opportunity," Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson wrote.
"If politics is hard to grasp for most buysiders then virology is impossible – that is enough reason to see de-risking to happen; although I would still anticipate dips to be bought."
Sustained falls in travel-related bluechip stocks and sectors exposed to China, including miners and oil majors, over the last few trading sessions have left the main index with a 2% loss so far this year.
(Graphic: Travel and related stocks - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/buzzifr/15/5502/5502/Pasted%20Image.jpg)
(Reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Alex Richardson)