FTSE hits 18-month high

The London market leapt to its highest level for 18 months today after US unemployment figures eased economic concerns about the world's biggest economy.

The London market leapt to its highest level for 18 months today after US unemployment figures eased economic concerns about the world's biggest economy.

The FTSE 100 Index jumped above the psychologically important 5600 barrier - hitting a level not seen since the beginning of September 2008 - several times during the session.

But London's top flight was unable to maintain the mark and ended the day up 1.3% - or 72.6 points at 5599.8.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was also on the front foot - up 0.8% - in the wake of the jobs figures.

US unemployment held at a rate of 9.7% in February as employers shed 36,000 jobs, fewer than expected.

David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index, said: "Friday saw UK shares continue the rally that has been in place since early February, but it was the latest US unemployment numbers that really set the markets in motion today."

Meanwhile, the pound also made gains today at $1.51 and €1.10.

London's surge was built on early positive trading after every major market in Asia was higher amid reports that the Bank of Japan may take further steps to protect its economy from deflation.

In London, miners joined financial stocks in making advances, with Xstrata climbing 62.5p to 1187p and silver specialist Fresnillo up 34p at 846.5p.

Asian-facing Standard Chartered added 60p to 1760.5p, while part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland cheered 0.6p to 39.9p and Barclays lifted 8.3p to 341.4p.

In corporate news, advertising and marketing giant WPP climbed 3% after it reported a smaller-than-expected decline in annual profits but cautioned that the recovery in its key markets still had a long way to go. Shares were up 21.5p to 645.5p.

United Business Media was a key winner in the FTSE 250 after annual profits of £165.1 million easily beat market expectations and as news of a settlement on outstanding tax payments removed uncertainty.

Shares jumped 7%, or 30.6p to 494p, while Informa, a provider of specialist information to the academic and scientific communities, climbed 11.7p to 374.2p.

Fellow second tier group Michael Page International was suffering reverse fortunes, down 3% or 10p to 385p, after it confirmed the impact of a tough recession on the group.

It said pre-tax profits for 2009 plunged 85% to £21.1m (€23.44m), although it confirmed signs of greater recruitment activity.

In the UK, banks, sales departments and IT were kick-starting hiring plans - with Michael Page receiving twice the number of recruitment assignments for banks last month compared with a year earlier.

Elsewhere, transport group Arriva slipped 10.5p to 559.5p as it said talks with France's national rail operator had ended over a potential deal for all or part of Keolis, which is 44.5% owned by SNCF.

The biggest Footsie risers were Schroders up 86p at 1396p, Xstrata up 62.5p at 1187p, Fresnillo up 34p at 846.5p and BHP Billiton up 80.5p at 2207p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Resolution down 1.3p at 68.75p, United Utilities down 9p at 551.5p, Petrofac off 14p at 1072p and Centrica down 1.6p at 282.6p.

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