Britain’s FTSE firm ahead of U.S. payrolls

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s leading share index was higher approaching midday Friday, led by strength in commodity issues as investors bet that February U.S. jobs data will show the economic recovery is on track.

At 1145 GMT (6:45 a.m. EST), the FTSE 100 was up 30.41 points, or 0.5 percent at 6,035.50, having fallen in eight of the previous nine trading days before a 1.5 percent jump Thursday.

Gains by miners and integrated oils provided the main support for the FTSE 100 index as recent worries over the impact of soaring oil prices on the global economy were replaced by hopes that the U.S. jobs data will show a pickup in employment.

The report, due at 1330 GMT (8:30 a.m. EST), is likely to show that U.S. nonfarm payrolls soared in February after being held back by extreme winter weather in the previous month. Employment is expected to have increased by 185,000, although market sentiment was for a number above 200,000.

“Investors seem to be focusing back on the fundamentals. with some of the risk element starting to dissipate with regards to the problems seen in North Africa,” said Henk Potts, market strategist at Barclays Wealth.

“There is a lot for investors still to be excited about … and I think some of the sell-off we have seen in the last couple of weeks in certain stocks offers buying opportunities,” Potts addd, mentioning cruise operator Carnival as an example.

INSURERS IN DEMAND

Standard Life gained 3.2 percent, a top FTSE 100 riser and heading a firm life insurance sector, supported by an increase in target price and estimates by Investec Securities ahead of its full-year 2010 results due Thursday, March 10.

Peer Aviva also gained ground, up 2.6 percent, as both Credit Suisse and Nomura raised their price targets following forecast-busting full-year results Thursday.

On the downside, WPP Group was the biggest FTSE 100 faller, down 2.9 percent, as analysts cited disappointment that strong results from the world’s largest advertising firm lagged those of French rival Publicis.

On the macroeconomic front, British construction orders rose 18 percent in the three months to December compared with the previous three months, 3 percent higher than the same period a year earlier, official data showed Friday.

But other domestic data was less encouraging.

British house prices fell 0.9 percent in February and by 2.8 percent in the three months to February compared with a year ago, their fastest annual pace in more than a year, mortgage lender Halifax said Friday.

And technical analysis of the FTSE 100 index was cautious.

“The index is swinging up and down between 5,850 support and 6,052 resistance thresholds. The immediate trend is up but the momentum is weak,” said Nicholas Suffet, technical analyst at Paris-based Trading Central.

“The lack of momentum allows (us) to expect a continuation of the consolidation move in the days ahead. Only a push above 6,100 would reinstate a positive bias with 6,250 as first target. Alternatively, a break below 5,850 would open a path to the 6,000 mark,” Suffett added.

(Editing by Hans Peters)