Miners, banks push FTSE to 21-month high

* FTSE 100 up 0.8 pct
* Miners gain ground, gold bounces back

* Legal & General leads insurers higher; banks firmer

By Simon Falush

LONDON, March 23 (BestGrowthStock) – Firmer commodity stocks and
banks lifted Britain’s top share index to a 21-month high on
Tuesday, while results from Legal & General (LGEN.L: ) pushed
insurers higher.

By 0952 GMT the FTSE 100 (.FTSE: ) was up 48.77 points at
5,693.31, having hit a high since June 2008 of 5,695.94, after
ending down 5.58 points, or 0.1 percent, on Monday.

Miners added the bulk of the gains for the blue-chip index,
finding support as gold rebounded.

Rio Tinto (RIO.L: ), Xstrata (XTA.L: ), Lonmin (LMI.L: ), Anglo
American (AAL.L: ), Kazakhmys (KAZ.L: ) and BHP Billiton (BLT.L: )
gained 1.7 to 2.2 percent.

“We’ve had a decent start which is an indication that there
is a bias towards equities, with investors seeing more upside,”
said Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank.

“That’s interesting for the FTSE given the stiff economic
headwinds for the UK economy and the fact we are going into the
budget tomorrow.”

British annual consumer price inflation slowed last month
for the first time since September, dropping more than expected
after favourable base effects and a fall in the prices of games
and toys, data showed on Tuesday. [ID:nONS004883]

Legal and General jumped 4.7 percent after it reported
profits ahead of analysts’ expectations, helped by cost cuts,
and said it saw new opportunities this year in spite of subdued
economic growth.

Peers Aviva (AV.L: ), Prudential (PRU.L: ), Standard Life (SL.L: )
and Old Mutual (OML.L: ) added 1-1.2 percent.

Elsewhere among financials, banks were also firmer. Barclays
(BARC.L: ), HSBC (HSBA.L: ), Standard Chartered (STAN.L: ), Royal Bank
of Scotland (RBS.L: ) and Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L: ) added
0.7-1.5 percent.

Cairn Energy (CNE.L: ) was the top FTSE 100 gainer, up 9.9
percent after the oil explorer accompanied full-year results
with upbeat comments on its operations in India and Greenland,
prompting BofA Merrill Lynch to hike its net asset value
estimate.

British Airways (BAY.L: ) climbed 2.9 percent after the
airline said its earnings expectations were unchanged as it
claimed contingency plans for dealing with a three-day cabin
crew strike had been successful.

Home improvement retailers were the biggest losers, with
traders saying that a warning from mid-cap Carpetright (CATVU.L: )
that year to 2010 profit will fall below current market
expectations weighed on sentiment for the sector.

Home Retail (HOME.L: ) and Kingfisher fell 1.5 and 1.1
percent, respectively. Kingfisher reports full-year results on
Thursday.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: ) fell 0.9 percent after the drugmaker
and regulators said on Monday that doctors should temporarily
stop using its Rotarix product against a diarrhoea-causing virus
called rotavirus because it is contaminated with an apparently
harmless pig virus.

BAE Systems (BAES.L: ) fell 1.2 percent after broker Bernstein
downgraded the defence stock to “market perform” from
“outperform” citing valuation grounds.

The Confederation of British Industry monthly distributive
trades survey is due at 1100 GMT.

Across the Atlantic, February existing home sales will be
the main data interest, due at 1400 GMT, with the ABC consumer
confidence report not due until after the London market close at
2100 GMT.

Investment Basics

Miners, banks push FTSE to 21-month high