Miners and energy firms push FTSE to week’s highest close

Strong miners and energy stocks helped drive Britain’s top share index to its highest close in a week yesterday in choppy trade as investors jostled for position ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday.

Traders pointed to continued speculation that the Fed could unveil a further round of US quantitative easing at this week’s meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but warned that there was a high risk of disappointment.

“We’re seeing a little bit of strength in stock markets this week, but it does feel like everyone is pinning their hopes on some sort of QE3 announcement, and I think the risk is definitely that it ends up being something of a damp squib,” David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index, said.

The UK benchmark index ended up 76.43 points, or 1.5 per cent, at 5,205.85, its highest close since 17 August, having traded as low as 5,098.14 earlier in the session.

Miners added the most points to the index, recovering after a dip in the previous session, as copper prices ticked higher on the hopes for more stimulus to support the US economy, which would in turn help the demand picture.

Near-term sentiment was also aided by data showing a strong reading on US durable goods orders.

BHP Billiton climbed 2.3 per cent after the miner posted record second-half profit driven largely by soaring prices for iron ore, and awarded investors with a big hike in dividends on top of its hefty expansion plans.

Integrated oils recovered their poise in tandem with the crude price after weakness earlier in the day, with Royal Dutch Shell and BP up one per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively, shrugging off target price cuts across the sector by Citigroup.

Tullow Oil jumped 8.4 per cent to near the top of the blue-chip leader board after the oil explorer posted soaring first-half profit, doubled its dividend and said it expected to conclude a long-awaited deal in Uganda in September.

Hedge fund manager Man Group grabbed the top spot on the FTSE 100 leader board, up 10.2 per cent after weekly net asset value data for the firm’s flagship AHL fund, published after the close on Tuesday, showed a 4.3 per cent weekly rise, and as HSBC upgraded its rating for the group to “overweight” from “underweight”.

Set-top box maker Pace also gained 10.2 per cent after the launch of a new HD-capable range.

WPP also notched up solid gains, up 7.4 per cent, after the advertising group reported strong first-half results, helped by growth in emerging markets, prompting Investec Securities to repeat its “buy” rating on the stock.

Motor insurer Admiral’s first-half results meanwhile disappointed, with its shares sliding 11.9 per cent to top the blue-chip fallers’ list.

Analysts cited a rise in the company’s combined ratio – a measure of how profitable an insurer is – as a reason for the stock’s decline.

And outsourcing firm Serco shed four percent after it said it saw challenges in the US and UK lasting up to 24 months following first-half results.

“I think that companies themselves are in a much healthier position than they probably would have been going into the last recession but there is going to be I think some sort of downturn,” said Martin Dobson of Westhouse Securities.