Belfast Telegraph

FTSE 100 hits sixth consecutive all-time closing high

Housebuilders propelled the FTSE 100 to its sixth consecutive all-time closing high after Persimmon reported a double-digit rise in half-year sales.

London's top flight index edged higher by 0.08% to set a fresh closing record of 7,195.31, creeping past its previous high of 7,189.74 set on Wednesday.

The FTSE also logged its best mid-session performance at 7,211.96 points in early trading on Thursday.

The biggest winners on the index were housebuilding stocks, pulled higher by Persimmon, which rose 7.18% as it cheered "healthy" demand amid a 10% surge in half-year sales despite uncertainty after the Brexit vote.

Persimmon saw robust sales reservations throughout the autumn season, boosted by readily available mortgage deals.

The company said it completed the sale of 15,171 homes in 2016 - up 4% - while group revenues lifted 8% to £3.14 billion.

The trading update was further good news for house builders, which were already on the rise after Deutsche Bank said there was "appealing value" in the sector.

Taylor Wimpey shares jumped 4.96%, while Barratt Developments rose by 2.8%.

Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital, said: "House builders are enjoying a very accommodative environment - rising demand, undersupply of new homes, ultra-low interest rates and good mortgage availability, and a supportive Government policy scheme in Help to Buy.

"No wonder they are set to be among the biggest dividend payers on the FTSE this year."

In currency markets, US dollar weakness sent the pound higher by 0.7% to 1.241. The greenback lost ground after ADP employment data showed weaker-than-expected jobs creation across the US in December.

Investors were also digesting the Markit/CIPS UK services purchasing managers' survey (PMI), which came in at 56.2, higher than November's 55.2 and surpassing economists' expectations for 54.7.

A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Against the euro, sterling was down 0.3% at 1.170.

Across Europe, the French Cac 40 and German Dax both closed flat.

In oil markets, Brent crude was down 0.35% at around 56.22 US dollars per barrel (£45.69) after data showed US crude stockpiles rose in the final week of December.

In UK stocks, Sports Direct shares rose 2.16% after the company recommenced share buy-backs, having paused the programme last year following a drop in half-year profits.

The company was also in the spotlight on Thursday after 54% of independent shareholders voted against reappointing chairman Keith Hellawell, accusing him of overseeing a "catalogue of governance and operational failures".

However, Mr Hellawell will remain in place after receiving the backing of 80.92% of all shareholders, which includes Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, who owns 55% of the company.

Rising gold prices buoyed miners including Fresnillo up nearly 6.4%, and Randgold Resources up 4.77%.

Away from the UK's top tier index, Johnson Service Group shares fell nearly 2% after Timpson - best-known for shoe repairs and key cutting - snapped up its drycleaning business for £8.25 million.

Rolls-Royce shares were the worst performers on the FTSE 100, dropping 4.19% after JPMorgan cut its price target for the stock.

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