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 mostly fell Monday as falling infection rates and more good news on the vaccine front were overshadowed by growing worries about high valuations and inflation.

While the United States is approaching 500,000 deaths, optimism is growing in the Covid-19 crisis as governments embark on immunisation programmes that will allow economies to reopen.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set Monday to start unwinding England’s third and potentially final coronavirus lockdown, as a quickening UK-wide inoculation drive relieves pressure on overstretched hospitals.

Johnson will 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.

Data meanwhile showed that German business confidence improved in February, as the robust industrial sector of Europe’s top economy bears up despite 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 the index slipped as 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 IG trading group.

The pound held gains above $1.40 – to record its highest levels since April 2018 – as the British government’s vaccine drive continued to progress well.

Bitcoin fell to below $55,000, having hit another record high of $58,350 and having passed $1 trillion in market capitalisation.

The stock market rally that has meanwhile characterised the past few months looks to have ground to a halt as traders fret that prices may have become a little too frothy.

There is growing concern that the expected recovery and US President Joe Biden’s planned stimulus package will fire a surge in inflation, which could force the Federal Reserve to wind back record-low interest rates.

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

- Key figures around 1215 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 6,591.64 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.5 percent at 13,920.10

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.4 percent at 5,748.65

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.6 percent at 3,689.73

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)

New York - Dow: FLAT at 31,494.32 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4025 from $1.4004 at 2130 GMT on Friday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2135 from $1.2114

Euro/pound: DOWN at 86.47 pence from 86.48 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 105.57 yen from 105.46 yen

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.8 percent at $63.42 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.8 percent at $59.69 per barrel