FTSE holds firm

Better-than-expected results from US banking giant Citigroup saw banks extend their rally today and helped the FTSE 100 Index hold firm above 4000.

Barclays closed at a six-month high thanks to another impressive gain on the back of Citi’s first-quarter figures, which revealed the smallest quarterly losses since 2007.

Lloyds Banking Group shares leapt by nearly a quarter at one stage, later closing 17% ahead, while the wider Footsie added 39.8 points to 4093.

News that conglomerate General Electric also kept revenues steady despite falling profits helped buoy sentiment, although the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wall Street struggled to hold on to early gains.

With corporate news thin on the ground on this side of the Atlantic, traders took their cue from Citi’s figures to pile back into bank shares.

Lloyds Banking Group surged 14.9p ahead to 104.6p, while Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland also posted double-digit gains at one stage. Barclays finished the session up 15p to 227p, its highest since last October, while RBS added 4.1p to 32.7p.

Other financial stocks were also in favour, with inter-dealer broker Icap jumping 25.25p to 409.25p and hedge fund Man Group gaining 22.5p to 274p.

Telecoms giant BT was the Footsie’s leading performer before the banks took over on market chatter that the Bank of England had bought up a chunk of BT’s corporate debt under its quantitative easing programme.

The boost for BT pushed its shares up 9% or 7.9p to 91.6p and came a month ahead of what are likely to be grim annual results for the firm.

Elsewhere in the sector Vodafone also gained ground, up 4.85p to 129.65p as it struck a new deal in the Indian market and shrugged off bad news from handset maker Sony Ericsson, which announced losses of €358m and 2,000 job losses worldwide.

Mining stocks saw a more difficult session, led by Randgold Resources and Rio Tinto as precious metal prices fell. The pair were down 160p to 2823p and 76p to 2398p respectively.

Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline extended gains seen yesterday when it unveiled plans to spin off its HIV treatment operation into a joint venture with fellow drug group Pfizer. The stock was 3p higher at 1038p

But packaging and outsourcing group Bunzl failed to hold on to gains, making more losses after spooking investors with a slight fall in underlying revenues and pressure on margins the day before. Shares fell 2.5p to 481.75p.

Outside the top flight, stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown lost 6% or 14.5p to 212.5p after founder Stephen Lansdown said he would sell at least 15 million shares. He will put the cash towards projects including a new stadium for Championship football club Bristol City.

The biggest Footsie risers were Lloyds Banking Group up 14.9p at 104.6p, Royal Bank of Scotland ahead 4.1p at 32.7p, Aviva up 31.25p at 286.25p and BT Group ahead 7.9p at 91.6p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Randgold Resources down 160p at 2823p, Next off 50p at 1401p, Compass down 11.25p at 333.5p and Rio Tinto down 76p at 2398p.

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