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Thursday Closing Market: a rally at last

(UPDATE) The market roars back to life amid widespread bargain hunting by investors and encouraging results from AstraZeneca, which offset news of a slowdown in the US economy.

The FTSE100 maintained its strong progress throughout the day to finish 95 points ahead at 3578 with banks and financials leading the fight back after the maulings handed out in recent days.

The market's surge was not repeated on Wall Street where a mixed bag of earnings figures and news that the US economy slowed down in the fourth quarter left a depressing pall hanging over the Dow Jones, which was 22 points adrift at 8088 by the close of trading in London.

In the UK news that house prices rose another 1.7% in January, making it 26.5% for the year coupled with strong UK December net new consumer credit figures helped to fuel the FTSE's comeback.

Today's leader of the pack in London was British Airways (BAY), which bounced back from a recent pounding from war fears to close 10% ahead at 115.75p.

Drugs giant AstraZenca (AZN) also deserves special mention for adding 9% to £20.78 following solid results in which earnings per share beat expectations.

The financials led the rest with a strong comeback after recent depressing trading. Banks had a solid day as Barclays added 7.2% and Northern Rock following yesterday's good results by pushing ahead by 31.5p to 609.5p.

Amvescap, Schroders, 3i Group and Old Mutual finished between 6.75% and 5.8% ahead.

Even beleaguered media stocks had a brighter day with Pearson (PSON) up 28.5p at 544.5p, Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) added 30p to 527.5p and Reuters (RTR) put on 5.6% to close at 178.5p.

Only a handful of stocks in the FTSE100 actually finished in negative territory. BAE Systems (BA.) led the way with a slide of 4.9% to 112.25p after the Ministry of Defence finally decided to award it the lion's share of the £2.9 billion contract to build two new aircraft carriers. After recent problems with overruns and overspending on government contracts the market reacted with doubt about the decision.

Tobacco stocks had a lacklustre day with British American Tobacco (BATS) closing down 1p at 565p after broker Lehman Brothers gave it an 'underweight' recommendation and Deutsche Bank suggested investors switch to Imperial Tobacco (IMT), which added a measly 0.9% to close at 938p.

The supermarkets came back into focus with news of strong trading helping Morrison's shares to finish 10p higher at 169.5p. Sainsbury went one better with a 5.7% or 13p rise to 240p.

Mining stocks were boosted by Rio Tinto's (RIO) solid performance figures which met expectations and helped it to end 29p better off at £11.22. Xstrata (XTA) clung to its coat tails to close 21.5p higher at 528.5p.

In the FTSE250 the insurer Britannic led the field with a strong rebound, gaining 14.9% at 116p after reassuring investors yesterday it was not about to break its banking covenants. Its recovery will hurt the hedge funds who have been shorting it recently.

The RAJAR radio audience figures helped to reassure investors in Capital Radio that its decline was not terminal and it added 37.5p to 395p.

The revival in British Airways shares also helped EasyJet to recover a little poise, closing the day 4.5% up at 219.5p.

Meanwhile Citywire tips Persimmon and Cox Insurance continued their solid progress with gains of 3.7% and 4.3% respectively.

However the slide suffered by BAE also afflicted two other Citywire tips in the defence sector with Meggitt slipping 6p to 164p and VT Group, which is directly involved in the carrier contract, 5p adrift at 196.5p.

Meanwhile down among the smaller caps Kingsbridge Holdings, the IFA to the sporting stars, added 1.75p to 7.5p after its chairman Charles Green said he was stepping down after warning the company remains extremely cautious about the outlook for the full year.

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