The FTSE 100 rose 28 points or 0.4% to 6,758, buoyed by Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L), up 2.4% to 82p, and HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L), up 1.5% to 670p, after a positive survey from the British Chambers of Commerce.
The BCC estimated the UK economy grew by around 0.9% in the fourth quarter of last year, up from 0.8% in the previous three months. It said more of its members planned to recruit staff, with services companies reporting their highest level of exports since its survey began in 1989.
Manufacturers suffered a dip in sales and exports but expressed confidence that their profits and investment levels would rise this year.
David Kern, chief economist at the BCC, said: ‘With most key balances in this quarter higher than their pre-recession levels in 2007, it is clear that the UK recovery is likely to continue to strengthen in the short term.’
The news failed to lift the pound, however. Sterling traded slightly lower at $1.640 to the dollar on fears the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee may push back expectations of when interest rates may rise after its two-day meeting ends on Thursday.
European stock markets also notched up their first significant gain of the year. The FTSE Eurofirst 300 added over seven points or 0.5% to 1,316.5 after good data from Germany and Spain.
German investor confidence was boosted by a surprise fall in unemployment with the seasonally adjusted figure dropping 15,000 to 2.965 million, although the rate of joblessness was unchanged at 6.9%. Meanwhile, signs that the ‘periphery’ of the eurozone was pulling through the crisis came from Spain recording its highest services sector growth for six-and-a-half years.
Back in London, Severn Trent (SVT.L) was the biggest faller on the FTSE 100, down 2.3% to £16.64 after JP Morgan downgraded the utility to 'underweight' from 'neutral' and cut its target price to £15.35 from £16.80.
Royal Mail (RMG.L) retreated 6.5p or 1.1% to 565.5p after Robin Byde, analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, started coverage of the stock with a ‘sell’ rating and a 500p price target saying it was no longer good value after the ‘spectacular’ rise in the share price since flotation.
There was better retail news for car dealer Lookers (LOOK.L), lifted 6p or 4.8% to 130p after the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said car sales had beaten forecasts with a 10% rise last year.
Aberdeen Asset Management (ADN.L) firmed 1.7p to 492.7p after Cannaccord Genuity raised its target price to 586p from 520p, saying it expected growth to return to the Scottish Widows business bought by the fund manager last year.
Publisher and conference organiser UBM (UBM.L) gained 8p or 1.2% to 671.5p after Investec Securities upgraded the stock to ‘buy’ from ‘hold’ and raised its target price to 750p from 690p commenting that its ‘forecasts now look more realistic’ after a poor 2013.
Costain (COSG.L) advanced 2% or 8.75p to 292.75p after the engineer said it expected full-year results to meet expectations, backed by a strong order book and good levels of contract tendering.
Brammer (BRAM.L), up 11.25p or 2.4% to 472p, pleased investors as the industrial maintenance group announced the acquisition of Swedish rival Lonne Holding.