Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and Lloyds (LLOY.L) extended their recent gains on Friday, with investors sending RBS shares to a two-month peak, while the FTSE 100 advanced ahead of an Italian debt auction.
RBS took on 1.7p, or 7.3%, to 24.7p – its highest level since the end of October – following a 5.5% gain on Thursday after the state-backed lender unveiled cuts to its investment banking division.
Friday’s gains came as broker Seymour Pierce upgraded its recommendation for RBS to ‘buy’ from ‘reduce’, lauding the bank’s new plans.
‘We believe that management has finally “grasped the nettle”, and though not guaranteed to generate rewards for shareholders, we believe there is now greater potential for gains,’ said Bruce Packard, analyst at the broker. ‘RBS remains risky, but at least now shareholders could be rewarded for the risk.’
Italy’s borrowing costs fall
Meanwhile, the UK index of blue-chip shares hardened 0.52%, or 30 points, to 5,693 and the All Share index improved 0.47%, or 14 points, to 2,925. See the FTSE’s performance and the index’s top winners and losers.
Italy, now at the centre of the eurozone debt crisis, is set to sell €4.75 billion of three-, four- and six-year government bonds, following well-received Italian and Spanish auctions in the previous session.
It is speculated that the success of those debt sales may have been due to a flood of cheap three-year loans the European Central Bank handed out last year, according to Michael Hewson at CMC Markets.
But he added: ‘It remains to be seen whether banks and investors will be prepared to do that with longer term paper and that really remains the acid test, as to whether these lower borrowing costs are sustainable.’
Nonetheless, the borrowing costs of Italy, Spain and France – the eurozone’s three biggest economies after Germany – all dropped further of the auctions, with those of Italy nearing a one-month low.
Tesco (TSCO.L) topped the loser board on the FTSE 100 for a second day running, shedding another 6p to 318p in the wake of the first profit warning from the supermarket giant in 20 years.
Engineers were among the biggest gainers on the FTSE 100, amid hopes for the global economic recovery. IMI (IMI.L) took on 28p to 887p and Rolls Royce (RR.L) added 10p to 773p, nearing Thursday's all-time high of 780p.
On the FTSE 250, Invensys (ISYS.L) tumbled 49p to 177p after the engineer said that higher costs in work on Chinese nuclear reactors and its rail division would hit profits.
Balfour Beatty (BALF.L) added 6p to 284p after Berenberg Bank initiated coverage of the contractor with a ‘buy’ recommendation and a target price of 340p, saying the shares trade at a discount to long-term price-to-earnings multiples.
The broker also pointed to Balfour’s strong balance sheet, with average net cash of £200 million in 2011. It estimated that the group can spend around £620 million on acquisitions over the next four years, possibly generating about 1.8p, or 5%, of incremental earnings per share in each year.
Europe stocks advance
Other stock markets in Europe also gained: Germany’s DAX index rose 0.61% to 6,217, France's CAC 40 index gained 0.88% to 3,228, and the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was 0.52% higher at 1,024.
Sterling edged up 0.07% versus the dollar to $1.535 but weakened 0.06% against the euro to €1.195.