Banks push FTSE to new highs

THE leading share index hit fresh five-year highs this morning, as banks and financial shares led the rally ahead of the February US jobs report out this afternoon.

The FTSE 100 was up by 0.5 per cent in early deals, led by heavyweight shares such as Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC.

In early trading, Lloyds was up 1.8 per cent, while HSBC rose 1.74 per cent. RBS rose 0.26 per cent and Barclays added 0.95 per cent.

Asset manager Schroders rose more than two per cent in early deals. Yesterday it hiked its dividend and reported good sales, despite an overall fall in profits.

Steel producer Evraz topped the FTSE in early trades, up four per cent.

Telecoms firm Vodafone rose 1.4 per cent, following a bumper rise earlier this week on suggestions that the company evaluating its options with Verizon Communications, or even considering a full merger.

Clustered in the fallers this morning was a mixed bag of engineering and natural resources shares.

Power generation firm Aggreko was down 1.9 per cent, losing gains it chalked up yesterday on the back of a rise in full-year profits.

Gold miner Randgold Resources fell 1.7 per cent, while energy giant Centrica was off by 1.5 per cent. This morning it was downgraded by JP Morgan to “neutral”.

In Japan, the Nikkei closed up 2.64 per cent, while in the US the Dow Jones closed up 0.23 per cent.