Bumper results lift FTSE higher

BRITAIN’S top shares pushed higher yesterday, notching up a third session of gains as investors digested a big bag of blue chip results, with advances in oil majors outweighing a heavy fall in drugs firm AstraZeneca.

The FTSE 100 index closed up 29.83 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 5,748.72 after a choppy session, continuing its recovery following big falls on Monday.

Integrated oil stocks were the strongest blue chip performers, adding almost 18 points overall to the index, led by Royal Dutch Shell which unveiled an 11 per cent rise in fourth-quarter profit as higher oil prices outweighed the impact of lower US gas prices. Shell shares gained 3.2 per cent, while BP added 2.8 per cent, and BG Group firmed 1.3 per cent, with both due to report their first-quarter results next week. Well-received earnings also supported hotel operator Whitbread, up 6.2 per cent after posting a rise in full-year profit, and consumer goods giant Unilever, ahead 2.7 per cent after its first-quarter sales beat forecasts.

With 24 per cent of the Stoxx 600 now having reported, Barclays Capital said the first quarter of 2012 appears to be off to a “significantly better start” than the fourth quarter of 2011.

Early gains on Wall Street also provided support as above-forecast pending homes sales data offset a bigger than expected rise in weekly jobless claims which maintained hopes for a possible further liquidity injection from the Federal Reserve.