FTSE rally tops fresh peaks yet UK banks slip

BRITAIN’S top share index hit new four and a half year peaks yesterday, with a strong rally in miners outweighing concerns about continuing problems in the banking sector.

Data from the US offered fresh proof of improvement in the world’s biggest economy, with a strong pick-up in housing prices following above-forecast durable goods data the previous session.

The numbers supported oil and copper prices, in turn boosting Britain’s heavyweight energy and mining stocks, which together added some 13 points to the FTSE 100.

The benchmark UK index closed up 44.78 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 6,339.19, posting its best finish since May 2008 as traders used a mid-session dip as an attractive entry point.

With the FTSE 100 already up 7.5 per cent since the start of the year and in overbought territory on the seven- and 14-day relative strength indexes, some analysts are warning that the case is building for a correction or at least a consolidation, and recommending that investors look to book profits.

But so far, the market has continued to grind higher, posting gains in eight of the past nine sessions.

“We are looking very strong at the moment, it seems we are shrugging off any bad news... The miners are having a good day, we’ve some good data out, particularly from America,” said Jonathan Roy, a broker at London Stone Securities.

“I think we will see a correction at some point, it will be a surprise that gets us moving back down towards 6,000. (But) for the moment I would probably be moving up stop-losses rather than taking profits.”

In a sign of continued investor optimism, implied volatility on the FTSE 100 – which tracks the prices investors are willing to pay for option protection– held close to six-year lows.

Banks suffered, however. with Royal Bank of Scotland off six per cent after the Wall Street Journal reported that the lender is close to a £500m settlement with US and British authorities over Libor, returning the interbank rate-fixing scandal to the front of investors’ minds.

With UK banks already up some 11 per cent since the start of 2013 the concerns about problems in the financial sector gave a cue for some profit-taking.

Cautious comments from several investment banks also weighed on sentiment.

“While systemic and regulatory risks have receded, the operating environment remains difficult in the face of a weak economic outlook,” analysts at Espirito Santo said in a note, downgrading both RBS and Lloyds to “sell”. Lloyds ended down 2.28 per cent at 51.93p.