CORRECTED – FTSE up 0.1 pct as banks rise; Next strong

(Corrects paragraph 2 to update index)

* Banks in favour as sovereign debt worries ease

* Next top blue chip riser after FY results

* UK retail sales bounce

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, March 25 (BestGrowthStock) – Britain’s top share index was
slightly higher in early trade on Thursday, buoyed by strength
in banks, and with retailers in demand as investors welcomed
full-year results from Next (NXT.L: ).

At 0946 GMT, the FTSE 100 (.FTSE: ) was up 15.65 points, or
0.3 percent, at 5,694.44, after it crept 0.1 percent higher on
Wednesday to levels not seen since June 2008.

“We had that decent set of results from Next, so that’s
provided a bit of cheer for the markets,” said Mike Lenhoff,
chief strategist at Brewin Dolphin.

Next was the standout FTSE 100 gainer, jumping 5 percent
higher after the fashion retailer beat company guidance with an
18 percent rise in 2009/10 profit but said it was reluctant to
predict profit in the current year because the outlook was so
uncertain. [ID:nLDE62L261]

Elsewhere in the sector, Marks & Spencer (MKS.L: ) and Home
Retail (HOME.L: ) rose 1.9 and 1.1 percent respectively.

Kingfisher (KGF.L: ), however, slipped 1.2 percent after the
home improvements retailer said it remained cautious on the
outlook for consumer spending after its full-year profits beat
forecasts. Seymour Pierce saying in a note it has concerns on
the short-term outlook, and it sees the stock as fairly valued.
[ID:nLDE62N0ZX]

Investors were also digesting a bounce in February UK retail
sales helped by a record increase in household goods sales,
after a dismal January.

Banks were in favour, having seen some strength in the
previous session, with Barclays (BARC.L: ), HSBC (HSBA.L: ), Lloyds
Banking Group (LLOY.L: ), Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L: ) and
Standard Chartered (STAN.L: ) rising 0.2 to 1.6 percent.

The sector benfitted from a slight easing in the concerns of
sovereign debt exposure which had been ratcheted up on Wednesday
as agency Fitch cut its debt rating for Portugal.

Investor sentiment improved ahead of a European Union
meeting to help heavily indebted Greece, and after a pledge by
Dubai’s government to support the restructuring of debt-laden
state-owned firms Dubai World and Nakheel.

Drugmakers also gave the blue chips a lift, building on
Wednesday’s advance, with AstraZeneca (AZN.L: ), GlaxoSmithKline
(GSK.L: ) and Shire (SHP.L: ) adding 0.4 to 0.7 percent.

Thomas Cook (TCG.L: ) ticked up 1.3 percent as Europe’s
second-biggest holiday firm said summer bookings had picked up
across all of its major markets and was confident it would
perform in line with its expectations for the full-year.
[ID:nLDE62L1KI]

Peer TUI Travel (TT.L: ), which fell on Wednesday after both
Credit Suisse and Panmure Gordon cut their ratings after a
trading update, edged higher, rising 0.7 percent.

MINERS, VODAFONE LIMIT GAINS

Mining stocks were weak across the board, falling back after
a rise in the previous session, with Eurasian Natural Resources
(ENRC.L: ), Antofagasta (ANTO.L: ) and Fresnillo (FRES.L: ) the worst
off, dropping 0.7 to 1.5 percent.

Rio Tinto (RIO.L: ) and BHP Billiton (BLT.L: ) lost 0.1 and 0.4
percent. The Australian competition watchdog on Thursday raised
concerns over the proposed iron ore joint venture between the
two. [ID:nnSYU00959]

Vodafone Group (VOD.L: ) shed 1.4 percent, the biggest
negative weight on the blue chip index, as Morgan Stanley
double-downgraded its rating for the mobile phones operator to
“underweight” from “overweight”.

Morgan Stanley said, “unlike consensus, we don’t think
Vodafone Europe can return to growth given it has the greatest
exposure to falling returns in mobile versus other operators
with a mix of fixed and challenger mobile operations”.

Investment Advice

(Editing by Mike Nesbit)

CORRECTED – FTSE up 0.1 pct as banks rise; Next strong