- FTSE 100 at highest since March 11th
- Insurers provide a lift, Standard Life and Phoenix in focus
- Lloyds drops after government sale, RBS downgraded
- ECB, PBoC stimulus hopes and US data drive gains
techMARK 2,787.86 +0.51%
FTSE 100 6,630.79 +0.39%
FTSE 250 16,273.83 +0.75%
UK stocks were at a two-week high on Wednesday, boosted by upbeat economic data from the US and the prospect of monetary easing in Europe and China.
Insurance stocks were providing a lift in London this morning, with Standard Life, Phoenix and Legal & General among the best performers, helping to offset falls in the banking sector.
The FTSE 100 was trading 0.4% higher at 6,631 by midday. The index is set to close at its highest level since March 11th when it closed at 6,685.52.
Markets were tracking gains made on Wall Street and in Asia overnight after figures released yesterday showed a bigger-than-expected increase in US consumer confidence to a six-year high in March.
The FTSE 100 surged by 1.3% on Thursday on the back of speculation that the People's Bank of China could introduce some form of stimulus into financial markets to prevent an economic slowdown.
Comments from Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann were also lifting hopes that the European Central Bank could ease policy further to fight falling deflation in the Eurozone. He said that quantitative easing was "not out of the question".
Meanwhile, a lack of newsflow surrounding Crimea may have also been behind the positive moves in London this morning. The world's top industrial powers removed Russia from the G8 on Monday as they met in The Hague, saying they are ready to "intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation".
Standard Life, Phoenix gain on Ignis deal
Standard Life and Phoenix Group were both making decent gains after agreeing on a deal to sell the latter's Ignis Asset Management division for £390m. Standard Life said the acquisition will enhance earnings from the first full year of ownership, while Phoenix estimates that the disposal will help to reduce gearing levels.
Financial services firm Legal & General also jumped after winning a bulk annuity arrangement with the ICI Pension Fund covering £3bn of its liabilities, the largest ever bulk annuity policy arranged by a pension scheme in the UK.
Others in the financial sector such as Aviva, Partnership Assurance, Just Retirement and Hargreaves Lansdown were also performing well.
Electricity provider SSE was in demand after unveiling plans to complete major disposals, freeze its household energy prices until 2016 and cut 500 jobs, as it confirmed results for 2013 would be broadly in line with expectations.
Banking stocks were heavy fallers this morning with state-backed lender Lloyds leading the decline after the government sold another tranches of its stake.
The agency that oversees the government's stake in the bank, UK Financial Investments, said the sale reduced the Treasury's shareholding to about 24.9% from 32.7%. The disposal was made at a price of 75.5p per share, compared with last night's closing price of 79.11p.
Part-nationalised peer Royal Bank of Scotland was also in the red after Numis Securities downgraded the stock from 'add' to 'hold', saying that its valuation "looks stretched".
Tour operator TUI Travel fell after saying that while it traded well this winter, summer bookings were flat against a strong performance last year.
A number of heavyweight stocks were trading lower after going ex-dividend, including BSkyB, Smiths Group, Bovis Homes, Devro, Countrywide, Ladbrokes, Prudential, Schroders and SEGRO.
FTSE 100 - Risers
Standard Life (SL.) 393.00p +5.14%
RSA Insurance Group (RSA) 88.40p +4.60%
Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) 1,457.00p +3.63%
Legal & General Group (LGEN) 216.50p +3.34%
Aviva (AV.) 492.90p +2.45%
William Hill (WMH) 347.50p +2.42%
Barratt Developments (BDEV) 411.80p +2.26%
Pearson (PSON) 1,042.00p +2.16%
Mondi (MNDI) 1,089.00p +2.16%
G4S (GFS) 239.80p +2.13%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY) 75.78p -4.21%
Centrica (CNA) 326.90p -1.68%
Carnival (CCL) 2,305.00p -1.62%
British Sky Broadcasting Group (BSY) 917.50p -1.08%
Smiths Group (SMIN) 1,275.00p -1.01%
Prudential (PRU) 1,319.50p -0.90%
Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) 305.10p -0.88%
BT Group (BT.A) 380.90p -0.81%
Barclays (BARC) 235.05p -0.80%
SABMiller (SAB) 2,955.00p -0.77%
FTSE 250 - Risers
Partnership Assurance Group (PA.) 134.50p +8.03%
Just Retirement Group (JRG) 145.00p +6.23%
Bellway (BWY) 1,688.00p +5.04%
Ocado Group (OCDO) 449.50p +4.97%
888 Holdings (888) 150.00p +4.75%
Imagination Technologies Group (IMG) 192.60p +4.73%
Ferrexpo (FXPO) 149.30p +4.11%
Thomas Cook Group (TCG) 182.30p +4.05%
Cairn Energy (CNE) 167.30p +3.98%
Kazakhmys (KAZ) 255.90p +3.94%
FTSE 250 - Fallers
EnQuest (ENQ) 134.40p -6.80%
Man Group (EMG) 98.75p -4.13%
NMC Health (NMC) 511.00p -3.58%
SEGRO (SGRO) 332.50p -2.23%
CSR (CSR) 705.50p -2.01%
John Laing Fund Ltd (JLIF) 114.70p -1.38%
Daejan Holdings (DJAN) 4,819.00p -1.23%
Countrywide (CWD) 667.00p -1.19%
Perform Group (PER) 242.20p -1.14%
Genus (GNS) 999.00p -1.09%