FTSE shrugs off bank levy tax as it surges to 32-month high

BRITAIN’S leading share index jumped higher yesterday, ending at levels not seen since May 2008, supported by rallies from banks and miners, and by gains in energy issues following results from BG Group.

At the close, the FTSE 100 index was up 40.30 points, or 0.7 per cent at 6,091.33, its fifth gain in the last six trading sessions.

Banks were higher, led by part-nationalised Lloyds Banking Group up 2.1 per cent, sidestepping news that Britain has slapped an extra £800m tax on lenders.

The British government said yeserday it will impose the full amount of a planned levy on bank balance sheets this year, instead of phasing it in.

“It is likely to remain more of a political football than one actually affecting investors’ views towards the major UK banks,” said Ben Critchley, a sales trader at IG Index.

Integrated oils also lent their strength to the blue chips, led by BG Group which gained 2.1 per cent after posting forecast-beating fourth-quarter results.

Miners rallied after early falls, with African Barrick Gold up 3.4 per cent as the gold price rose on short-covering, and as a surprise rate hike from top commodity consumer China was shrugged aside.

“The move by China to hike interest rates ... is a move to curb spiralling inflation and normalise growth, not impede it,” said Joshua Raymond, market strategist at City Index.

Raymond noted that traders continued to buy into both mining and banking weakness, despite the rate rise, indicating a “bullish bias”.

“That said, whilst the US markets continue to hit new 52-week highs and the DAX hits a new three year high, the FTSE 100 is stuck in a trading range. Traders are likely to need to see the FTSE break out of its current range and trade consistently above nearest resistance levels of 6,117 before they can be convinced that the UK Index can follow its European and US peers,” he added.

Xstrata gained 1.7 percent after the miner beat forecasts with an 86 percent jump in full-year profit on stronger commodity prices, gave a positive outlook for 2011, and set its final dividend at 20 cents.

“This reflects a return to pre-financial crisis levels and confidence in the medium-term outlook, and underscores our buy recommendation,” said Daniel Harris, head of dealing at CFD and spread betting firm H2O Markets.

Among individual stocks, engineer GKN was the top blue chip gainer, up 5.6 per cent reflecting strength in European carmakers ahead of upcoming sector results, and vague underlying bid speculation, said traders.

Smiths Group, ahead 2.1 per cent, also saw a return of bid chatter, with US firm Honeywell once again seen as a possible predator, traders said.

Inmarsat added 3.6 per cent as Harbinger Capital Partners sold its remaining stake in the satellites operator, clearing an issue overhanging the stock, and prompting upgrades from BofA Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. Retailer Marks & Spencer rose 3.8 per cent after poaching Tesco’s Laura Wade-Gery to head up its Internet business. Tesco fell 1.5 per cent on the move.

Oil explorer Cairn Energy was a top blue chip faller, down 2.4 per cent. India wants state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp’s concerns over royalties to be addressed before approving a $9.6bn sale of control of Cairn India’s assets to Vedanta Resources. India-focused miner Vedanta shed 0.8 per cent.