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LONDON: British shares inched lower on Wednesday as a jump in COVID-19 cases across Europe stoked worries about its near-term economic impact, while a slump in clothing prices caused a surprise dip in UK inflation last month.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index was down 0.2%, with bank stocks including HSBC Holdings, Barclays Plc, and Lloyds Banking Group falling between 1% and 1.5%.

Oil heavyweights BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc were also among the biggest laggards.

British inflation unexpectedly fell in February, reflecting the biggest annual drop in clothing prices since 2009 and cheaper second-hand cars, toys and computer games, though most economists see sharper price rises ahead. The FTSE 100 has rebounded more than 36% from a coronavirus-driven crash last year, but the pace of gains has slowed recently as investors fear a vaccine-led economic recovery could lead to higher inflation.

Market participants are now waiting for British business activity data for March due at 0930 GMT.

The domestically focused mid-cap FTSE 250 index was flat. Housebuilder Bellway Plc shed 2.1%, after reporting a 4% fall in pre-tax profit for the six months to Jan. 31.

Holiday company TUI gained 3.4%, despite saying it would shut 48 retail stores across Britain, adding to the 166 it had closed there during the pandemic.’

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