US job figures give markets a Friday boost

Better-than-expected US jobs figures sent markets higher on both sides of the Atlantic today as investors cheered encouraging signs for the world’s biggest economy.

London’s FTSE 100 Index powered to a fresh five year high, up 31.3 points to 6470.5 and within touching distance of its closing high set in January 2008.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wall Street opened higher, up nearly 20 points in early trading, after official figures showed the US added 236,000 jobs in February, cutting the unemployment rate to 7.7% last month – the lowest level in four years.

The mood was also helped by Chinese trade figures, with export growth in February beating forecasts and boosting hopes for decent economic growth this year.

Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari, said: “A strong Chinese economy, in the same way as the US, is beneficial for the global economy as a whole so positive data out of China tends to be reflected in most stock indices.”

Shavaz Dhalla, trader at Spreadex, added: “Today’s data is a reminder that the markets are now not solely underpinned by optimism, but instead there is now a series of good data from the global economy to brighten up the picture for the global economic outlook.”

Banks occupied a number of the leading positions on the FTSE 100, with Barclays 8.1p higher at 317.6p, HSBC up 14.25p to 732.45p and Royal Bank of Scotland up 3.25p to 306.45p.

Other risers in the FTSE 100 Index included Vodafone as its shares continued to benefit from speculation over a possible deal involving US partner Verizon Communications. Shares have risen 17% this year and were up by 4.3p to 182.9p today.

There was also a recovery for Aviva shares after the insurer’s slump yesterday in the wake of the decision to cut its full-year dividend by 44%.

Analysts have suggested that last night’s 13% share price drop has provided a potential entry point for investors interested in a recovery play.

The blue-chip stock stabilised today with a rise of 8.6p to 323.4p, while Standard Life continued its post-results improvement with a gain of 7.4p to 380.4p.

In corporate news, shares in paving slab maker Marshalls were 4% higher – up 4.25p to 109.75p – after it met City expectations with full-year results showing a 24% drop in profits to £10.4 million during a rain-affected 2012.

And cast iron cooker firm Aga Rangemaster rose after it said profits improved 12% to £8.4 million, with greater impetus expected in the coming months after an encouraging month of trading in February. Its shares were 1.4p higher at 86.4p.

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