Miners and banks boost FTSE 100

STRONGER miners and banking stocks outweighed falls from defensive stocks to leave Britain’s top share index slightly higher by the close yesterday while BSkyB gained after an expected pay-TV review from Ofcom.

The FTSE 100 index ended 7.32 points, or 0.1 per cent, higher at 5,679.64 having closed 0.7 per cent lower on Tuesday and below the 5,700 level for the first time in three sessions.

Banks were the biggest support for the index with Lloyds Banking Group, Standard Chartered, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland up 0.3 to 2.3 per cent, though sector heavyweight HSBC fell 0.3 per cent.

Miners also provided support to the index, helped by Morgan Stanley lifting target prices on a number of stocks in a sector review. Anglo America, Xstrata, Fresnillo, Rio Tinto and Antofagasta added 0.2 to 1.5 per cent.

Weak data from the United States that showed employers shed 23,000 jobs, missing a forecast increase, prompted a slight dip in midsession trade, but the move was muted with investors relatively confident on the economic outlook.

“The move was muted and for good reason, the bigger picture is that the US economy is stronger and economies elsewhere are recovering. We are in a strong cyclical recovery,” said Steven Bell, director of hedge fund GLC.

Supporting this view, data showed orders received by US factories rose for a sixth straight month in February.

The FTSE 100 gained 6.1 per cent in March, its strongest month since last August and is up 4.9 per cent this year after gaining 22 per cent in 2009. It has gained in four consecutive quarters after seeing five quarters of losses prior to that. BSkyB was the top FTSE 100 riser, up 3.4 per cent as Britain’s dominant pay TV group said it will challenge regulator Ofcom’s ruling that it must make its premium channels showing sports available to its rivals for a set, lower fee.

Defensive stocks were the main drag on the blue-chip index as investors looked to adjust positions on the last day of the first-quarter.