Markets: Financials see FTSE make fresh gains

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FINANCIAL stocks were in demand yesterday as a broker upgrade for banks and a report that life insurers will target booming Asia helped the London market build on this year’s highs.

The FTSE 100 climbed above the 6,300 barrier for the first time since May 2008, but the bulls lost their nerve towards the end of the session and the index closed just 10 points higher at 6,294.4.

Toby Morris, senior sales trader at CMC Markets, said: “Equity markets were a mixed bag, easing slightly after early gains, with data out of the US struggling to convince either the bulls or the bears to back their convictions.”

Goldman Sachs boosted shares in Britain’s banks with a series of upgrades across the sector, with HSBC singled out for extra praise. The global bank was ahead 6.8p to 717.1p, but rival Barclays was the biggest blue chip riser with a 2 per cent jump, up 5.2p to 305.9p, after a weekend newspaper report said it was planning to swoop on the financial markets to raise billions of pounds of new capital.

Ratings agency Moody’s said European and US life insurers will seek takeovers in booming Asia and put more money into riskier assets this year to bolster flagging profits. Despite negative comments on the outlook for the insurance market in the west, the stocks found favour, with the already Asia-focused Prudential up 7p to 954.5p. Edinburgh-based Standard Life added 4.3p at 350p.

Retailers came under pressure after broker Morgan Stanley said trading conditions will be very similar to last year, adding that the market’s earnings forecasts are currently around 10 per cent too high. It downgraded Argos-owner Home Retail Group after a strong recent run, leaving the shares 9.6p lower at 124p.

NEW YORK: On Wall Street, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index eased slightly last night after an eight-day run of gains, its longest winning streak in eight years, while the Nasdaq edged higher as Apple shares rebounded.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 12.98 points, or 0.09 per cent, to close at 13,883.00 while the broader S&P 500 dropped 2.71 points, or 0.18 per cent, to end the day on 1,500.25. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 4.59 points, or 0.15 per cent, closing at 3,154.30.