FTSE up almost 25 points

FTSE up almost 25 points

London's leading shares index ended the week on a high today as fresh evidence of growth in the United States boosted traders' confidence.

The FTSE 100 Index closed 24.9 points ahead at 5965.6 after US factories stepped up production in February for the third straight month, driving the best job growth since the recession ended.

The strong manufacturing data follows a strong US jobs survey yesterday and added to optimism surrounding the health of the world's biggest economy, triggering gains on European markets.

The pound was up at 1.58 against the US dollar, as a rally in the greenback earlier in the week, driven by its safe-haven status, came off the boil as confidence in the recovery returned. Sterling was also up against the euro at 1.20.

The upbeat mood boosted banking shares with taxpayer-backed Royal Bank of Scotland near the top of the risers' board after it benefited from a broker upgrade. It rose 6%, or 1.7p to 28.1p.

Lloyds jumped 1p to 37.5p while Barclays added 4.8p to 254p.

The encouraging picture of the US economy triggered a rally in the demand-sensitive resources sector, with miner Rio Tinto up 31p at 3578.5p, Eurasian Natural Resources ahead 6.5p at 684p and Anglo American adding 36.5p at 2618p.

The retail sector was given a boost by strong weekly sales at John Lewis and Waitrose last week, as customers welcomed the spring weather by revamping their wardrobes and their diets.

The department store business had one of its best weeks in recent months, with revenues up 14.2% to £59.7m (€71.68m) in the seven days to last Saturday, while supermarket Waitrose saw sales rise 7.2% to £104.5m (€125.47m).

Marks and Spencer rose 2% or 5.9p to 381p and Next added 34p to 2935p.

The index's oil and gas sector had a mixed session despite a slight rebound in crude prices. BP was down 0.5% or 2.6p at 490.2p after losing 1% yesterday and Royal Dutch Shell was off 15p at 2285p after recovering most of its early losses.

Outside the top flight, holidays firm Thomas Cook was up 5% after reports it has knocked back a proposed deal from two industry veterans to inject £400m (€480.25m) into the business and raise more cash through a rights issue.

Shares climbed 1.3p to 24p, but are still a fraction of their 160p price a year ago.

Argos parent Home Retail Group enjoyed a 2.5% boost after brokers at HSBC upgraded the stock. Shares rose 2.9p to 116.9p, while fellow FTSE 250 retailers Dixons Retail and online grocer Ocado climbed 6% or 1p to 17p and 11% or 12.7p to 131.8p respectively.

The biggest Footsie risers were Essar Energy up 11.3p at 124.9p, Royal Bank of Scotland ahead 1.7p at 28.1p, Icap up 19.3p at 431.5p and Tullow Oil ahead 57p at 1528p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Polymetal International down 33.5p at 961.5p, Randgold Resources off 160p at 6490p, Resolution down 5.2p at 278.8p and GKN off 2.4p at 217.2p.

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