Decent gains for FTSE

British housebuilders stormed ahead today after Taylor Wimpey cheered sentiment with an upbeat assessment of the UK property market.

British housebuilders stormed ahead today after Taylor Wimpey cheered sentiment with an upbeat assessment of the UK property market.

The FTSE 250-listed Wimpey led a revival in investor interest in the sector as its shares rocketed more than 9% after it said it had seen signs of recovery and revealed a 73% leap in orders.

Despite a thin pickings in corporate news, the wider FTSE 100 Index was also buoyed today as positive signs on the US economy helped to bring a volatile week to a close. The Footsie closed up 65.1 points at 4345.9, a rise of 1.5%.

Gains in the UK mirrored world markets as yesterday's strong US jobs and industrial data continued to allay investors' concerns and contributed gains on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.3% in early trading, while the CAC in France and Germany's Dax were also in positive territory today.

While a broker upgrade for cruise ship operator Carnival helped it to the top of the Footsie risers' board, it was Wimpey's optimism that the UK property sector should avoid a severe downturn that caught the eye of the market.

Its shares raced up 3p to 34p, while fellow FTSE 250 builder Barratt Developments rose 10p to 153.5p. Redrow added 8.75p to 191.5p, Bellway was 13.5p better at 623p and Persimmon gained 12.25p to 364.5p.

Stocks connected with the property market were likewise benefiting - builders merchant Travis Perkins rose 22p to 497p and plumbing giant Wolseley gained 56p to 1079p.

In the top flight Carnival gained 6% as Wachovia upgraded the firm after a smaller-than-expected quarterly earnings fall yesterday. Carnival, which has also seen firmer pricing on last minute bookings, saw shares rise 97p at 1668p.

Tour operator Thomas Cook was also in the black with a rise of 4%, or 9p to 220.25p, following yesterday's news that the administrator of its embattled majority shareholder Arcandor is unlikely to resort to a firesale of assets.

Elsewhere in the sector Thomson and First Choice firm TUI Travel rose 6.5p to 232.5p.

Insurers were meanwhile on the front foot as Prudential announced the transfer of its Taiwan business to the China Life Insurance company. Shares rose 4% - up 17.75p to 423p - as the firm said the deal would boost its capital strength by £800 million.

Aviva rose 18.5p to 336.75p and Legal & General grew 1.2p to 61.4p.

Broadcaster BSkyB was another riser, up 12.75p to 443.75p after an upgrade from UBS and amid question marks over the future of its sports broadcasting rival Setanta.

There were few fallers in the top flight as the wider market advanced, although more defensive stocks lost ground. Telecoms giant Vodafone edged 1.85p down to 119.95p.

The four biggest Footsie risers were Carnival up 97p at 1668p, Aviva, up 18.5p at 336.75p, ICAP up 24p at 454.5, Lonmin up 66p at 1250.

The four biggest Footsie fallers were Smiths Group down 14.5p at 649p, Royal Bank of Scotland down 0.8p at 37.2p, Vodafone Group down 1.85p at 119.95p, Amlin down 4.5p at 319p.

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