Sales figures boost helps sterling move higher against dollar
Sterling swung into positive territory as retailers brushed off Brexit uncertainty to notch up better-than-expected sales figures.
The pound marched 0.8% higher against the dollar at 1.315 US dollars as warm weather helped retail sales grow by 1.4% in July, with economists' pencilling in a rise of 0.1%.
The Office for National Statistics said July sales also rose by 5.9% compared to the same month last year despite fears Britain's vote to leave the European Union would hit consumer confidence.
London's top-flight index was back in the black, rising 9.81 to close at 6,868.96, as minutes from the US Federal Reserve gave little indication as to when it would raise interest rates.
The minutes of the Fed's July 26-27 meeting, published on Wednesday, stated the near-term risks to the US economy had subsided and a rate hike could be needed, but it did not indicate when it might happen.
Oil prices pushed higher for the sixth-day running, breaking back through the 50 US dollar a barrel mark, amid speculation the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries may reignite talks on freezing output.
Brent crude was up 1.8% to 50.43 US dollars (£38.36) a barrel.
Across Europe, Germany's Dax stepped up 0.6% and the Cac 40 in France closed 0.4% higher.
In UK stocks, Asda's supermarket rivals were pushing ahead after the grocer announced its worst quarterly performance on record.
The chain - owned by US giant Walmart - posted a 7.5% fall in like-for-like sales in the second quarter.
The results represent the eighth consecutive quarter of sliding sales and a worsening of the 5.7% drop seen in the previous period.
Sean Clarke, who took up the reins on July 11, is attempting to turn Asda around through a £1.5 billion investment in price cuts amid a brutal price war in the supermarket sector.
Dubbed Project Renewal, the plan to revive Asda's fortunes involves reduced prices, job cuts and improved ranges.
Sainsbury's was among the biggest risers, lifting 3%, or 7.2p, to 241.6p, while Tesco rose 3.3p to 159.5p.
Homebuilders were on the up, aided by impressive sales growth by B&Q owner Kingfisher.
The retail group said there had been "no clear evidence" of falling demand following the Brexit vote while l ike-for-like sales at the DIY specialist rose 3% to £3 billion, driven by strong growth at trade outlet Screwfix .
Like-for-like sales at Screwfix rocketed 13.3% as it benefited from extended ranges and new store openings. Same-store sales at B&Q rose 5.6% in the quarter to July 31.
The figures indicate the home improvement sector has likely held up following the referendum.
Shares in Kingfisher were up 6.7p to 364.7p, with Taylor Wimpey rising 4.3p to 157.3p and Persimmon lifting 29p to 1777p.
Away from the top tier, London-listed steelmaker Evraz was the biggest loser on the FTSE 250, down more than 11%, or 19.4p, to 153.5p.
The Russian company reported a 60% drop in pre-tax profit during the first half of 2016.
William Hill was also down more than 1%, or 4.7p, to 303.1p after Rank Group and 888 Holdings gave up their pursuit of the betting giant, abandoning a £3.6 billion three-way merger attempt.
The casino giant and online operator had tabled a revised offer for the bookmaker, which was swiftly rejected by William Hill's board on Monday for "substantially undervaluing" the firm.
The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 Index were Antofagasta up 28.5p to 571p, Sainsbury up 7.2p to 241.6p, easyJet up 31p to 1078p and Taylor Wimpey up 4.3p to 157.3p.
The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 Index were British American Tobacco down 113p to 4834p, Pearson down 19.5p to 863p, Imperial Brands down 68.5p to 4060p and Royal Bank of Scotland down 3p to 187.3p.