LONDON (Reuters) - The FTSE 100 pushed higher on Friday, reaching a fresh 4-1/2 year peak, led by strength in market heavyweight Vodafone, banks and energy stocks.
Vodafone was again the single biggest contributor to the FTSE 100’s advance, up 0.9 percent to extend Thursday’s 3.2 percent jump and alone adding over 3 points to the index.
Traders on Thursday cited talk that the mobile telecoms group may sell its stake in its U.S. wireless joint venture to its partner Verizon as the main reason behind the rally.
UK banks also lent the market their strength, with the sector up 0.3 percent on news lenders will repay the European Central Bank 137 billion euros in 3-year loans from its Long Term Refinancing Operations next week.
Banks have opted to hand back the money early in a sign that at least parts of the financial system are returning to health.
The FTSE 100 index closed up 19.54 points, or 0.3 percent at 6,284.45, notching up a 2.1 percent advance for the week, and taking the January gains to over 11.5 percent.
“The FTSE is having a good go - 6,300 looks to be where we’re headed .... It’s been an amazing run for the FTSE, so we might see a little bit of money come off the table up here” - Steve Asfour, head of trading at Fox Davies Capital.
Broker comment provided a lift for the blue chips, with the energy sector the best performer thanks to gains in heavyweight Royal Dutch Shell.
Shell alone provided 4.5 points of the FTSE 100’s advance, with a 1.3 percent gain, as traders cited the impact of a Societe Generale upgrade to “buy”.
British Airways and Iberia airlines group IAG was also a strong gainer, up 2.1 percent, having earlier hit its highest level in 18 months, benefiting as JPMorgan upgraded the stock to “overweight”, traders said.
“We believe IAG shares will outperform once Iberia reaches agreement with unions (or implements unilateral cuts), and see the recent underperformance as a good entry point for investors,” JP Morgan said in a note.
And broker comment boosted Russian gold miner Polymetal as well, up 2.4 percent as UBS upgraded its rating to “buy” from “neutral.”
Miners in general, however, were weaker, retreating after gains on Thursday following positive factory data from top metals consumer, China. The sector’s 0.9 percent decline knocked more than 5 points off the FTSE 100 index.
Anglo American fell 0.5 percent as it reported mixed quarterly production, badly dented by strikes that battered South Africa’s mining industry last year.
The globally focused FTSE 100 shrugged aside news that Britain’s economy is coming closer to dipping back into its third recession in four years, after growth shrank more than expected in the last three months of 2012.
Conall MacCoille, Chief Economist at stockbrokers Davy, said the 0.3 percent contraction was smaller than was first predicted with an expansion in construction the notable success story.
“Nonetheless, today’s release is bound to increase the pressure on (British Chancellor) George Osborne and herald talk of a triple dip-UK recession. We haven’t yet seen enough of the Q1 data to make a strong call on whether UK GDP in Q1 will be positive or negative,” he added.
Additional reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Toby Chopra