FTSE 100 surges on gains by commodities and financials

BANKS and commodity stocks powered strong gains for Britain’s top share index by close yesterday, on increasing optimism about the global economy and investor confidence that the Eurozone debt crisis would be contained.

The FTSE 100 index ended up 125.06 points, or 2.2 per cent, at 5,767.56, a second straight session of strong gains.

It was its highest close since 22 November and the biggest daily gain since the start of September.

Shares initially trimmed gains as comments from European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet suggested it would resist pressure for a major bond buying programme, but confidence returned that the authorities would do what was needed to prevent contagion from the crisis that had engulfed Ireland last month.

“There’s more confidence than there has been that [euro zone debt] problems can be contained than there has been since the Ireland news started to emerge about two weeks ago,” said Giles Watts, head of equities at City Index.

Commodity stocks extended gains from Wednesday, tracking firmer metal and crude oil prices on recovery expectations and as upbeat economic data out of the United States pointed to a brighter demand outlook.

BP added 2.6 per cent, while oil services firm Petrofac gained three per cent after Goldman Sachs upgraded it to “buy” from “neutral”.

Miners Rio Tinto, Anglo American and BHP Billiton were 2.7-4.2 per cent higher.

Stronger than forecast housing and retail data from the United States also lifted investors’ spirits. Fashion group Burberry, up 6.5 per cent, was among the top beneficiaries of the improved sentiment, traders said.

Banks were also in demand, as fears that the sector could face more setbacks as a result of the Eurozone debt crisis began to fade.

Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered rose 2.8 to 3.8 per cent.

In earnings news, TUI Travel, Europe’s biggest travel company, rose 7.5 per cent, the leading gainer after full-year operating profit came in at the top end of expectations.

Elsewhere, GKN gained 7.2 per cent, boosted by a rise in US auto sales.

Defensive stocks Imperial Tobacco and Morrison Supermarkets were among a short list of fallers as investors rotated into more cyclically biased stocks.

Traders were cautious on whether the gains could be sustained, with volumes not much above the 90-day trading average cited as evidence that there is not huge enthusiasm for the rally.

“While the market is trading strongly higher today, volume is hardly spectacular, indicating that even fund managers may just be dipping their toes,” said Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital.