City traders celebrated a new milestone today when the FTSE 250 Index broke through the 10,000 barrier on a day when blue-chip stocks were also in hot demand.
Upbeat results from the likes of First Choice Holidays and JD Wetherspoon drove mid-cap shares to a new high of 10024.5, while talk of a bid for Centrica from Russian energy giant Gazprom was encouraging investment in the top flight.
Evidence that the UK economy was recovering well after sluggish growth last year also helped the FTSE 100 Index to close 17.7 points up at 6104.3 while the FTSE 250 stood 30.7 points higher at 9997.6 at the finish.
Shares in Centrica lifted 2% or 5p to 307.25p after a senior Gazprom executive said the owner of British Gas was on its “watch list” along with other companies.
The stock was further buoyed by reports that the UK Government would not block an approach by the Kremlin-run gas giant.
Insurance giant Legal & General also closed up after new business in the UK lifted 28% to £363 million in the first quarter.
Legal ticked 0.75p higher to 142.25p after saying that the hike in sales between January and March was due in part to customers and their advisers preparing for new pensions regulations that came into force on April 6.
It was a good day in the sector all round as Friends Provident – due to reveal its sales performance in the first quarter on Friday – jumped 3% or 4.5p to 199.75p and Royal & Sun Alliance enjoyed a rise of 2p to 139.5p.
But shares in Reuters failed to get a lift from first-quarter figures that showed total revenues rising 13% to £633 million.
Reuters fell 1.75p to 400.25p on a mixed session for the media industry, with Pearson dropping 0.5p to 758p while ITV was up half a penny to 116.5p.
Oil and gas exploration group Soco led the way among the mid-cap risers as it said results of the TGT-3X exploration well on the Te Giac Trang structure in offshore Vietnam confirmed the existence of a major oil field. Shares were up 10% or 149.5p to 1610p.
First Choice Holidays accelerated 4% or 8.5p to 223.5p after it said summer sales for its mainstream business were up 7% in the past five weeks, with rates of sale and margins described as “particularly strong”.
Rival tour operator MyTravel also gained ground as a result of the improving picture for the industry – up 6.5p at 227p.
And JD Wetherspoon gained 3% or 12.75p to 395.75p after news of improving sales at the pub chain pleased investors and that so far there had been no negative impact on its Scottish pubs of a smoking ban north of the border.
The day’s biggest blue-chip risers were Amvescap up 9% or 50p to 624p, Brambles Industries up 3% or 15.25p to 454.5p, Old Mutual ticked 3% higher or 5.25p to 199 and Friends Provident lifted 2% or 4.5p to 199.75p.
The biggest fallers were British Energy down 5% or 33p to 682p, Northern Rock off 2% or 26p to 1078, Morrison down 2% to 4.25p to 188.25p and Cadbury Schweppes off 2% or 11.5p to 553p.