The pound is sitting above $1.40 for the first time in nearly three years as Britain's vaccination programme progresses and the government looks to ease lockdown measures

London (AFP) - Stock markets fell for the most part Monday as falling infection rates and upbeat vaccine news failed to allay growing concern over high valuations and inflation.

While the United States nears 500,000 Covid deaths, optimism is rising as governments embark on immunisation programmes that should allow economies to reopen.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to start unwinding England’s third and potentially final coronavirus lockdown now that a quickening UK-wide inoculation drive is relieving pressure on overstretched hospitals.

Johnson is expected to confirm the reopening of all English schools on March 8 in the first big step towards restoring normal life, nearly a year after he imposed the first stay-at-home order.

In Germany meanwhile, a survey showed that business confidence has improved this month, with the robust industrial sector of Europe’s top economy withstanding the impact of coronavirus restrictions.

The Ifo institute’s monthly confidence barometer, based on a survey of 9,000 companies, climbed to 92.4 points from 90.3 points in January, when tougher measures to fight the pandemic were introduced.

European stock markets “have kicked off the week on a somewhat unstable footing, with the fears over rising inflation and (US) Treasury yields once again dampening sentiment on a day that had promised to be dominated by reopening hopes”, noted Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at the IG trading group.

The pound held gains above $1.40 – reaching its highest levels since April 2018 – as the British vaccine drive progresses well.

Bitcoin fell to below $52,000, having hit another record high of $58,350 and passing $1 trillion in market capitalisation.

The stock market rally that has characterised the past few months looks to have ground to a halt as traders worry that prices might have become a bit frothy.

Concern is growing that an expected recovery and US stimulus package will fuel a surge in inflation, and that the Federal Reserve would then wind back record-low interest rates.

Investors are also keeping tabs on China-US relations after President Joe Biden urged European allies to stand up to political and economic challenges from Beijing.

- Key figures around 1430 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.6 percent at 6,587.53 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.5 percent at 13,903.47

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.4 percent at 5,748.58

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.7 percent at 3,686.69

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.5 percent at 31,336.63

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 30,156.03 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.1 percent at 30,319.83 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 1.5 percent at 3,642.44 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4035 from $1.4004 at 2130 GMT on Friday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2145 from $1.2114

Euro/pound: UP at 86.53 pence from 86.48 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.38 yen from 105.46 yen

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.7 percent at $63.98 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.3 percent at $60.60 per barrel