FTSE flies high, but poll date 'ignored'

LONDON FTSE 100 CLOSE 5,780.4 +35.5

LONDON'S Footsie closed at its highest level since June 2008 yesterday as Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally named the date for the General Election.

The FTSE 100 index was little moved by the announcement of the expected 6 May poll date, traders instead seizing on Friday's upbeat United States jobs figures in their first chance to react after the Easter break.

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David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index, said: "It wouldn't be an overstatement to say this was roundly ignored by the stock market – with so many FTSE 100 companies deriving a significant chunk of income from outside the UK, the comings and goings as to who is leading the country do not seem to be a major concern at the moment."

The Footsie rose near the 5,800 mark early in the day amid buoyant sentiment and eventually closed up 35.5 points at a 22-month high of 5,780.4.

Dealing rooms were focused on prospects for the world's biggest economy on the other side of the Atlantic after the better-than-expected jobs data fuelled optimism over the US recovery.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat in early trading as investors waited on the publication of the minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest meeting.

The pound endured a rocky start against the dollar after the jobs news prompted speculation that the Fed could soon raise rates, although it later pulled back to stand just above $1.52. Worries over Greece pushed the pound near 1.14 against the euro.

Michael Hewson, analyst, at CMC Markets, said: "Sterling will now be at the whim of the polls until 6 May. Polls showing no clear Conservative majority will be seen as negative for the pound."

The improved economic sentiment has seen oil prices soaring further in recent days, with crude oil hitting nearly $87 a barrel – the dearest since the peak of the financial crisis in October 2008.

In the UK, oil stocks were higher thanks to the surging cost of crude. BP gained 15p to 646.3p or 2 per cent and Shell was up 30.5p at 1,860p.

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Base metal prices were also cheered by the news as Eurasian Natural Resources added 41p to close at 1,266p on a good day for the index's miners.

In an otherwise quiet day for corporate news, Royal Bank of Scotland was up 0.25p to 44.95p amid reports over bids for the 318 branches it is selling to ease competition concerns.

On Sunday, Virgin Money – one of the main contenders for the branches – confirmed that it had received 100 million backing from US tycoon Wilbur Ross to help finance its plans.

Insurer Admiral was a prominent riser after a positive note from Bernstein Research, which suggested that the group could claim a 15 per cent market share in the UK and overtake Direct Line as the market leader in the next decade. Shares rose or 35p to 1,367p.

Telecoms firms continued to ease back after last week's news from Ofcom that it plans to cut charges networks can charge each other for connection. Vodafone fell another 2p to 149.65p.

Drug giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca were also under pressure for much of the day as investors moved their money out of more defensive sectors.

Astra was down 26.5p to 2,919.5p, although GSK pulled back earlier losses to finish 3.5p up at 1,260.5p.