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Financial institutions and commodities help London’s top stocks to gain ground

BRITAIN’S leading share index added 0.7 per cent yesterday, buoyed by strength in commodity issues, supported by trade data from China, and in banks and insurers as Wall Street put in an early advance.

At the close, the FTSE 100 was 38.27 points higher at 5,640.57, a 20-month peak, at levels not seen since June 2008. The blue chip index remained over 60 per cent above levels hit almost exactly a year ago when the market reached a trough.

“Wall Street came in with some early gains and stirred the FTSE from an earlier torpor late afternoon,” said Mic Mills, senior trader at ETX Capital.

“But aside from strength in heavyweight commodity issues there really looks to be little underlying the advance and with new multi-month peaks being struck, investors might start to find the air getting a bit rarified at these levels,” Mills added.

Miners saw the biggest demand as copper prices rose after data showed Chinese exports and imports grew faster than expected in February raised hopes for a global economic recovery.

Fresnillo, Xstrata, Lonmin, Vedanta Resources, and Rio Tinto were among the best performers, ahead 1.8 to 3.2 per cent.

Energy issues were higher supported by a rally in crude prices, which rose above $82 a barrel after a US government oil inventory report showed an unexpected drop in gasoline stockpiles.

Royal Dutch Shell, BG Group, BP and Cairn Energy gained 0.8 to 1.5 per cent. But oil explorer Tullow Oil missed out, losing 0.3 per cent after it posted a 92 per cent fall in 2009 net profit. Standard Chartered added 0.5 percent in spite of the stock trading ex-dividend yesterday.