* FTSE 100 up 0.5 percent
* Man, WPP gain after results
By Tricia Wright
LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - Britain’s top stocks were higher on Thursday morning as investors cheered results from companies such as Man Group and WPP.
London’s benchmark blue-chip index was up 26.13 points, or 0.5 percent, at 5,897.64 by 0929 GMT, having fallen 1.0 percent on Wednesday after bearish comment on the U.S. economy from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.
“Markets are starting to be a little more nervous than they have been for weeks,” said Lex van Dam, a hedge fund manager at Hampstead Capital which manages $500 million of assets.
“When the price of gold suddenly dropped $100 late yesterday afternoon it showed that this market can change character very very quickly. A lot of good news is now priced in.”
Earnings releases were behind a number of share price moves on Thursday. Man Group, the most heavily traded blue-chip stock, was the top riser, up 8.6 percent after full-year results.
Man, the world’s biggest listed hedge fund company, reported a drop in fund outflows and a rise in assets, as it revised its dividend policy, with Oriel Securities repeating its “add” rating on the stock. Trading volume was around three quarters of it its 90-day average.
WPP was another good gainer, up 3.2 percent, as the advertising group posted a better-than-expected 19 percent rise in 2011 profit and reaffirmed its targets for 2012, prompting BofA Merrill Lynch to raise its estimates and target price.
Banks added most points to the index, recovering after weakness in the previous session, in spite of downbeat comment from Berenberg Bank which cut its ratings, target prices and estimates across the sector.
Berenberg said in a note the repressed financial environment was a very poor one for bank profitability, one which enabled governments to cut debt at the expense of risk-free asset holders.
“Those bank managements that recognise these issues and adjust strategies will be rewarded by the market. Sadly, none has taken the chance so far. We see negative implications for UK banks. We downgrade our forecasts by 25 percent on average and are now 30 percent below consensus.”
Royal Bank of Scotland underperformed its peers, trading flat, pressured by a double-downgrade to “sell” from “buy” from Berenberg.
Technical analysis showed that in a potentially negative sign, the FTSE 100, up around 6 percent this year, ended February below the mid-point of the month’s range.
That could be the start of a correction, analysts said, adding that the lack of reference points to provide support meant the index may drop down to test end-January lows of 5,651 before fresh buying.