Miners rise on China stats despite lingering euro fear

BRITAIN’S top shares rose yesterday, aided by mining stocks after data from top metals consumer China eased worries over the demand picture, although fears of a Greek default kept a lid on the gains.

The UK benchmark closed up 36.51 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 5,693.95, having earlier baulked just above the near-term 5,720 resistance level.

Miners tracked solid gains in metals prices after China's economy grew at a pace better than some had expected, though expanded at its weakest pace in two and a half years in the latest quarter.

“It’s a very important focal point for the macro picture. China needs to avoid a hard landing and this data today does assist with that somewhat,” said Angus Campbell, head of sales at Capital Spreads.

Rio Tinto was among the top blue-chip risers, up 2.9 per cent, as the positive data helped investors shrug aside its near-flat iron ore production growth for the fourth quarter, which was weaker than some market expectations.

Nomura also weighed in on the company, saying it was one of its top picks among European miners.

India-focused refiner and power generator Essar Energy was the biggest FTSE 100 casualty after India’s Supreme Court ruled against it in a case yesterday, meaning it will no longer benefit from a scheme by which it is able to defer sales tax.

Essar’s shares sank 26 per cent to their lowest level since the company listed in London in 2010, in hefty trading volume, at almost eight times its 90-day daily average.

Investors were rattled about prospects for a Greek default, which could worsen Europe’s debt crisis by pushing borrowing costs for countries on the bloc’s periphery to unsustainable levels.

Talks between Greece and its private sector creditors on a debt swap deal which broke down last week are expected to resume today.

Athens requires a swift resolution to avoid defaulting on €14.5bn of bond redemptions that fall due in late March.

Despite these overarching worries, UK banks put in a solid showing, with Royal Bank of Scotland one of the best off, ahead 1.8 per cent, after the British lender secured a $7.3bn deal to sell its aircraft-leasing business.

“[The] disposal will release $2.5bn of risk-weighted assets, assisting RBS to reduce its wholesale funding commitment and strengthen core Tier 1 capital,” Oriel Financials said, reiterating its “buy” rating on the stock.

Insurers gained, too, with insurance buyout vehicle Resolution up 1.4 per cent as UBS upgraded its rating to “buy”, citing valuation grounds, in a note on the UK life and non-life insurance sectors.

After a choppy session, Burberry ended in positive territory, 0.1 per cent firmer, as the British luxury brand met forecasts with a 22 per cent rise in third-quarter revenue.

Some analysts said the figures were flattered by a pulling forward of wholesale orders and that the firm’s full-year guidance implied little growth in fourth-quarter wholesale sales.

“Even with the positive macro-economic news, companies are still struggling to maintain expectations above market consensus,” Atif Latif, director of equities and derivatives at Guardian Stockbrokers, said. “We think that the Greek situation is still a grave concern and it is a case of when an orderly default will occur which will increase the pressure on the ECB.”