Pension holders and savers saw £64billion wiped off the value of UK shares yesterday as world markets took a fierce battering.
On a day analysts dubbed “Ugly Thursday”, the FTSE 100 Index suffered its biggest single-day fall in three years, plunging nearly five per cent.
The dramatic falls followed gloomy news from the US Federal Reserve.
With the “disappointing” US rescue package adding to ongoing fears over the eurozone debt crisis, the FTSE finished the day at 5,041.61 – down nearly 250 points or 4.58 per cent.The index has lost 14 per cent of its value this year.
David Jones, chief market strategist with spread betters IG Index, said investors had suffered heavy losses, adding: “It’s an ugly day for shares in London.”
And Ros Altmann, pensions expert and director-general of over-50s group Saga, said the outlook for UK pensioners was “grim”.
She added: “People are going to have to work longer or end up being really poor.
“The authorities seem to be running out of options for reassuring markets and pension funds are suffering dreadful damage, being squeezed as never before.
“The Fed’s actions may have done more harm than good. We are destroying pension funds while trying to save the banks and annuity rates are plunging.”
Tony Attubato, of the Pensions Advisory Service, said members of money purchase pension schemes are likely to feel the heat rather than those with final salary pensions.
He warned employers may “explore ways of reducing their liabilities” since they bear the investment risk for funding pension promises.
For its part, the Government is trying to tackle the £1.1trillion deficit in public sector funding by asking workers to accept schemes based on career-average earnings, not final salaries.
But this has led unions to warn of a wave of strikes across Britain.
Yesterday’s market slumps came as the US Federal Reserve announced it would not embark on a third package of quantitative easing – basically printing notes to put more money into circulation in an effort to stimulate the economy.
Markets had surged in recent days in the hope that this is what it would do.
But instead the Fed said it would keep US interest rates lower for longer by swapping short-term government loans for ones that expire over a longer period, in a process dubbed “Operation Twist”.
Traders were rattled by the Fed’s gloomy outlook, which highlighted weakness in the US labour and housing markets and gave very little reason to hope America’s economy would be reignited.
Ben Potter, of IG Markets, said the US had missed one of its last chances to “get on the front foot and jolt the market with stimulus”.
He said its financial position is “very dangerous”.
Closer to home, the eurozone crisis continued.
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said countries like Britain could slip back into crisis unless “bold and collective” action was taken. She urged banks to provide more capital and governments to control debt, but said the recovery would still be “anaemic”.
Prime Minister David Cameron put his name to a letter to the current G20 president France, warning it was vital that the top 20 economies agreed solutions at the Cannes Summit in November.