Strong gains for banks as FTSE closes up

Banking stocks led strong gains on the London market today as optimism surrounding the global economic outlook strengthened.

Strong gains for banks as FTSE closes up

Banking stocks led strong gains on the London market today as optimism surrounding the global economic outlook strengthened.

The FTSE 100 Index closed 109.1 points higher at 5790.7, just shy of its recent six-month high of 5800, after a raft of positive manufacturing data lifted sentiment.

Chinese factory output saw a modest improvement, a Markit/CIPS manufacturing survey for the UK and eurozone was encouraging and the US sector also saw stronger growth in January.

The improved mood lifted the Dax in Germany and France’s Cac-40 by 2.4% and 2% respectively, while Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average was 1% ahead at the time of the London close.

The upbeat outlook distracted traders from ongoing uncertainties about whether Greece will agree a deal with creditors to write-off a large chunk of its debts.

The manufacturing data strengthened the pound, which rose against the dollar at 1.58, but sterling was down against a stronger euro at 1.20.

Banks were among the big risers, with Barclays up 11.6p at 224.1p, Royal Bank of Scotland ahead 1.1p at 27.7p, and Lloyds 1.6p higher at 32.2p.

BP also benefited as oil prices of near 100 US dollars a barrel meant the heavily-weighted FTSE 100 stock added 2% or 12.2p to 483p. Miner Xstrata improved 45p to 1119.5p and Weir Group, which makes pumps for the oil sector, was up 67p at 2022p.

There was also momentum from corporate results after the financial trading firm ICAP indicated that profits for the year to March will be near the upper end of current City forecasts. Shares jumped 7% or 26p to 362p.

Imperial Tobacco shrugged off a 7% fall in volumes in the final quarter of 2011 after sales were hit by the crisis in Syria and more declines in Spain amid the economic gloom.

The firm said it was on track to meet full-year targets after its key strategic brands of Davidoff, Gauloises Blondes, West and JPS, saw 10% sales growth. Shares rose 33p to 2303p.

ARM Holdings was at the top of a shortened fallers’ board as investors indulged in some profit-taking following a strong run for the tech company’s shares.

The Cambridge-based group, which yesterday reported a strong set of quarterly results, including a 45% increase in pre-tax profits to £69m in the final three months of 2011, saw its shares slip 17p to 592.5p.

Outside the top flight, Home Retail Group lost earlier gains after it appointed John Walden, who has held senior positions at BestBuy and department store Sears, to revive the catalogue chain. Shares were down 1p to 106.4p.

Online grocer Ocado was up 10% after results yesterday showed it was close to breaking even at the bottom line, cutting losses by 80% in the year to November 27 to £2.4m. Shares were 11.1p lower at 285p.

And Johnson Matthey, the catalysts and precious metals firm, also encouraged investors after it reported further good progress in its third quarter. Shares were 104p higher at 2155p, a rise of 3%.

The biggest Footsie risers were Schroders up 126p at 1576p, Icap ahead 26p at 362p, Barclays up 67p at 1260p, Johnson Matthey ahead 108p ahead 2159p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were ARM Holdings down 17p at 592.5p, BSkyB off 8p at 682p, Admiral down 8p at 933p and Smith & Nephew off 2.5p at 612.5p.

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