* FTSE 100 up 0.1 pct
* Whitbread rises 4 pct after higher Q1 sales
* Citigroup upgrade boosts HSBC
* Risky to add to FTSE positions at current levels -traders
By Sudip Kar-Gupta
LONDON, June 18 (Reuters) - Britain’s benchmark equity index edged higher on Tuesday, helped by gains at hotels and food group Whitbread and heavyweight bank HSBC.
Some traders saw the index making little near-term progress, however, due to persistent uncertainty over future central bank monetary policy, particularly that of the U.S Federal Reserve, which meets this week.
The blue-chip FTSE 100 was up by 0.1 percent, or 4.44 points, at 6,334.93 points in early session trading.
Whitbread topped the FTSE’s leaderboard with a 4.5 percent gain, after posting higher first-quarter sales.
“Whitbread has once again delivered a strong trading update,” said Shore Capital analyst Greg Johnson, who kept a “buy” rating on the stock.
HSBC also advanced by 1 percent to add the most points to the FTSE 100, which traders attributed to a move by Citigroup to upgrade its rating on HSBC to “buy” from “neutral”.
Injections of liquidity and interest rate cuts by major central banks have spurred a global equity rally this year, with the FTSE 100 up some 8 percent since the start of 2013.
But the FTSE has fallen back 8 percent from 13-year highs reached in late May on expectations that signs of a recovery in the U.S economy may lead Fed Reserve head Ben Bernanke to soon scale back some of its stimulus measures.
Alpari analyst Craig Erlam felt any scaling back in the Fed’s stimulus programme would only occur later in the year.
“While the threat of early Fed tapering is a threat, I don’t think it’s likely in the coming months, given that the recovery in the U.S. remains fragile, despite the improvement in the employment data earlier this month,” he said.
Both he and EGR Broking managing director Kyri Kangellaris said it was a risky tactic to add to equity positions while there was still uncertainty over the Fed’s next steps.
“I wouldn’t buy the FTSE here,” said Kangellaris. (Editing by Catherine Evans)