FTSE indices plodded higher to close near the psychological 7000 mark, with gains by Aviva (AV.), Schroders (SDR) and Admiral (ADM) cue for other financials. Bank of England stayed its benchmark rate and QE programme, while European Central Bank held its core rate and flagged the start of its liquidity programme.
Aviva (AV.) stacked on 7.05% to 569.5p as it booked a FY pretax operating profit of £2.173bn, up 6%. Schroders (SDR) added 4.75% to 3178p on a FY pretax profit up 16% to £517.1m. Other financials followed -- Standard Life (SL.), Legal & General (LGEN) and Prudential (PRU) -- and Admiral (ADM) rose 3.77% to 1514p after a slow start as its FY pretax profit fell 4% to £357m.
FTSE 100 closed up 41.9 points, or 0.61%, to 6961.14. FTSE 250 was up 174.66, or 1.02%, to 17,310.3. At 4.55pm both WTI and Brent crude were mildly firmer. BoE held its rate at 0.5% and QE programme at £375bn. ECB retained its 0.05% rate and signalled the start of its 1.1tn euros QE package on March 9. European stock markets also closed higher.
Other stocks up included several supermarkets, commercial property and banks. Sainsbury (SBRY) added 1.65% to 276.5p, British Land (BLND) rose 1.65% to 862.5p, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) firmed 1.63% to 379.3p. Several oil stocks tiptoed higher, but lost steam as crude's earlier gains began to abate. Wood Group (WG.) added 1.46% to 660.5p.
Blue-chip fallers numbered less than 20, with miners the theme. Lonmin (LMI) fell 3.94% to 136.5p, Kaz Minerals (KAZ) shed 3.61% to 232.3p and Rio Tinto (RIO) slid 2.88% to 2985p. Aggreko (AGK), down 0.67% to 1625p, booked a FY pretax profit of £289m, from £333m. In the spotlight HSBC (HSBA) was down 2.61% to 570.8p.
Aurasian Minerals (AUM) rose 34.88% to 0.29p after non-executive chairman Tony Shearer resigned. He and non-exec director Patrick Gorman leave with effect from March 16. Bruce Kay joins as non-executive chairman and Tim Coughlin as a non-executive director.
Wm Sinclair (SNCL), down 23.71% to 37p, sees its FY underlying results materially worse on the year, and has today appointed Stuart Burgin as its incoming interim CEO, replacing Peter Rush who departs the company. It has also launched a transformation plan.
Betfair (BET), up 17.58% to 2100p, has hiked its guidance for FY 2015. It saw core earnings up to £118m, well up on earlier guidance of £97m-£103m. This followed a better-than-expected Q3.
CAP-XX (CPX:AIM) leaped 22.22% to 1.1p after cutting H1 losses despite revenues barely budging. Meantime, Northern Petroleum (NOP:AIM) jumped 12.59% to 6.08p as its sealed a farm-out deal with Shell (RDSA) in respect of its Cascina Alberto permit, onshore Italy.
APR Energy (APR) has agreed to extend 75MW of power generation projects in Argentina. Two of the projects, representing 50MW, have extended through to late 2016, while a third, representing 25MW will continue through to late 2017. Its shares rose 18.63% to 398.88p.
ECB has hiked its 2015 eurozone growth forecast to 1.5%, from 1%, expecting it to hit 2.1% by 2017. It said the bloc would experience low negative inflation in the months ahead, before prices began to rise late 2015.
Stateside, US initial unemployment claims rose to 320,000 in the week ended Feb. 28, up 7000 on the week, US Department of Labor said. Unit labour costs in the non-farm business sector rose 4.1% in Q4 2014, US Bureau of Labor Statistics said, reflecting a 1.9% hike in hourly compensation and a 2.2% fall in productivity.
New orders for US-manufactured goods in January fell $0.9bn, or 0.2%, to $470.0bn, US Census Bureau said. Elsewhere, the euro-zone retail purchasing managers' index fell to 46.4 in February, from 46.6 in January.
Botswana Diamonds (BOD) rose 10.4% to 1.38p said a comprehensive exploration programme conducted in Q3 2014 followed by detailed analyses in the laboratories of JV-partner Alrosa highlighted specific target areas on PL 206, 207 and 210 blocks, Botswana.
Spirax-Sarco Engineering's (SPX) FY pretax profit slipped 1% to £144.8m, from £145.7m. Its dividend was 64.5p a share, up 9%. Special dividend was 120p a share. It has established an operation to sell direct into the Indian market. Its shares rose 11.17% to 3424p.
Vertu Motors (VTU) fell 6.15% to 57.25p despite flagging record annual sales and profits. Disappointment at a lack of further upgrades, with new car sales growth decelerating and margin pressure in used cars, lay behind today's share price decline.
Virgin Money (VM.) added 4.78% to 334.25p as FY underlying pretax profit jumps 127% to £121.2m on a growing mortgage book. When costs for November’s IPO are considered, pretax profits dived 82% to £34m. Elsewhere, private investor Richard Griffiths has hike his stake in Synairgen (SNG) to 6.1%. Its shares rose 17.86% to 33p.
Genel Energy (GENL) rose 5.57% to 592.25p as 2014 numbers showed its ability to generate cash in the domestic market. Revenue beats consensus, coming in at $520m against a forecast $501m, and the realised domestic price of $40 to $45 a barrel is also better than anticipated.
H&T Group (HAT), up 7.85% to 175.25p, posted FY pretax profits of £5.5m, down 17.9% on last time. The proposed a flat FY dividend of 4.8p a share. Finally, shares moving on news included 32Red (TTR), Hunting (HTG), CSR (CSR), Cobham (COB), easyJet (EZJ), Management Resource Solutions (MRS), Nichols (NICL), and Flybe (FLYB).