Markets finished strongly on Thursday, rebounding after recent falls as concerns over an impending Western intervention in Syria eased slightly and US growth estimates were revised higher.
One of London's largest constituents, Vodafone, was providing a lift on the FTSE 100 today on hopes that it can secure a deal to sell its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless for well over $100bn. Some well-received results from blue chips Melrose and WPP were also boosting markets.
"A much more positive session in European markets today, helped in part by the likelihood that any decision on imminent military action in Syria has receded somewhat on the basis that a political consensus may take a little longer to achieve, which could see cooler heads prevail on a knee-jerk military response," said Senior Market Analyst Michael Hewson from CMC Markets.
The FTSE 100 finished 52.99 points higher at 6,483.05, a rise of 0.82% on the day.
Helping stocks this afternoon was an upwardly-revised estimate of second-quarter economic growth in the States. US gross domestic product is now said to have expanded at an annualised rate of 2.5%, well above the preliminary 1.7% estimate and ahead of the 2.2% growth analysts were expecting. Initial jobless claims from the US also came in better than forecasts today.
Syria in focus as leaders hesitate on action
Markets have been hit this week by concerns about a potential Western military action in Syria in response to last week's alleged chemical weapons attack that killed over a thousand civilians. While the government has denied responsibility, leaders in the US and UK have agreed that they must be held accountable.
The world is now waiting for a UN report due out later this week of the findings from its chemical weapons inspection team, currently in Damascus.
President Barack Obama said last night on PBS NewsHour that he has not yet decided on a course of action to take but assured that the US won't get drawn into the Syrian civil war. "We can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about," he said.
However, he did say that retaliation for using chemical weapons would send a "pretty strong signal" to Bashar Assad's regime.
The threat from disruptions to oil supplies in the Middle East (in the event of action against Syria) had sparked a surge in crude prices - West Texas futures jumped to its highest level in over two years yesterday - which risks eroding growth prospects for the global economy. Oil prices however pulled back today, easing the downward pressure on stocks.
Fears over a looming Western intervention also lessened today after UK Prime Minister David Cameron backed down from taking a vote on military action, as Labour leader Ed Miliband demanded "compelling evidence" from UN inspectors on the use of chemical weapons before making a move.
FTSE 100: Vodafone surges as talks resume with Verizon
Telecoms group Vodafone, one of the biggest companies in terms of market capitalisation on the FTSE 100, was a high riser after confirming that it has restarted talks with partner Verizon about the possibility of selling its stake in their US joint venture, Verizon Wireless. It is speculated that Vodafone could receive as much as $130bn from the sale of the 45% interest through a mixture of cash and stock, making it the third-largest deal in history.
Engineering investment firm Melrose Industries also jumped after seeing revenues and profits more than double in the first half as results were boosted by Elster - the gas, electricity and water measurement business it acquired last year.
Advertising and media giant WPP was also making decent gains after revealing a 19% increase in half year pre-tax profit as slowing growth rates among emerging markets were eclipsed by a strong performance among mature markets like North America and the UK.
Airline peers IAG and easyJet were also higher, rebounding as oil prices
edged lower. The recent surge in crude had sparked worries over rising jet fuel costs for the travel industry.
Leading the downside was outsourcing group Serco which dropped 11% after it was revealed that it is under investigation by the City of London police in regards to a "misreporting of data" by a number of employees. Serco said it will forgo any past and future profits on the £285m contract to escort prisoners to and from court. Investors were largely ignoring a strong first-half report by the company this morning which showed a 10.5% rise in first-half adjusted profits.
Insurance firm Admiral was also lower after its first-half results as markets were underwhelmed by a 6% rise in profits and an 8% increase in the interim dividend.
Education and publishing group Pearson was hit by a downgrade by Deutsche Bank this morning to 'sell' on the back of its exposure to a rapidly changing industry in the face of improving technology. In contrast, building materials firm Travis Perkins was higher after Citigroup upgraded it to 'buy', saying it is a good way to play the improving performance of the UK housing market.
FTSE 250: Salamander rockets after first-half results
Asia-focused oil and gas group Salamander Energy saw shares
surge after impressing investors with its first-half report and maintaining its full-year production guidance. Salamander managed to increase output by 39% year-on-year to 14,900 barrels of oil equivalents per day in the first half despite some disappointment earlier in the year regarding a drilling programme offshore Indonesia. Elsewhere, the firm said that development of the Bualuang field off Thailand is running ahead of expectations.
EVRAZ, the Russian steel group, was performing well despite swinging to a half-year loss on the back of weak pricing as investors welcomed its announcement to scale back capital expenditure for the full year.
Bus and train operator Stagecoach gained after saying trading overall since the start of the fiscal year (May 1st) has been good and its prospects remain positive driven by its regional bus business and operations in the US.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Vodafone Group (VOD) 204.75p +8.16%
Melrose Industries (MRO) 301.80p +6.12%
WPP (WPP) 1,227.00p +4.16%
easyJet (EZJ) 1,259.00p +3.88%
GKN (GKN) 335.80p +3.61%
Petrofac Ltd. (PFC) 1,423.00p +3.49%
CRH (CRH) 1,379.00p +3.45%
Aggreko (AGK) 1,625.00p +3.37%
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) 1,843.00p +3.08%
Fresnillo (FRES) 1,321.00p +2.56%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Serco Group (SRP) 538.50p -11.21%
Antofagasta (ANTO) 849.00p -2.92%
Pearson (PSON) 1,280.00p -2.74%
Vedanta Resources (VED) 1,187.00p -1.82%
BG Group (BG.) 1,245.00p -1.78%
Randgold Resources Ltd. (RRS) 5,105.00p -1.73%
Admiral Group (ADM) 1,270.00p -1.55%
Anglo American (AAL) 1,507.00p -1.54%
Amec (AMEC) 1,050.00p -1.13%
Glencore Xstrata (GLEN) 308.05p -1.06%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Hochschild Mining (HOC) 267.10p +13.66%
Salamander Energy (SMDR) 132.10p +10.08%
Evraz (EVR) 134.00p +7.46%
Stagecoach Group (SGC) 327.80p +6.64%
Thomas Cook Group (TCG) 141.00p +6.33%
Anite (AIE) 116.80p +5.13%
Centamin (DI) (CEY) 43.00p +4.80%
Polymetal International (POLY) 730.50p +4.66%
Greene King (GNK) 837.50p +4.17%
African Barrick Gold (ABG) 187.00p +3.95%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
Xaar (XAR) 830.00p -4.54%
Hunting (HTG) 831.50p -4.21%
F&C Asset Management (FCAM) 99.90p -2.92%
Diploma (DPLM) 605.50p -2.89%
Ferrexpo (FXPO) 168.20p -2.49%
EnQuest (ENQ) 124.50p -2.12%
Berendsen (BRSN) 870.00p -2.08%
Devro (DVO) 316.80p -1.86%
Dairy Crest Group (DCG) 505.00p -1.75%
Lonmin (LMI) 344.10p -1.71%