Belfast Telegraph

FTSE 100 closes at highest level for the year after hike in price of oil

London's top flight index surged ahead after a jump in the price of oil bolstered commodity stocks and overshadowed dismal data from the UK economy.

The FTSE 100 Index closed at its highest level for the year, up 67.5 points to 6204.4, as Brent crude lifted 5.9% to 41.74 US dollars a barrel.

Oil giants Royal Dutch Shell and BP felt the force of the price rise, stepping up 64.5p to 1740.5p and 11.1p to 350.4p respectively.

Heavyweight miners were also higher on the likelihood of livelier global trading, with Anglo American leading the charge, rising 8.1% or 41.1p to 547.2p, while BHP Billiton rose 33p to 760.5p.

Gains from the top-flight came despite UK factory output slumping in February, fuelling fears that the economy is slowing down.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said manufacturing output dropped by 1.1% on the month in February, following a rise of 0.5% in January.

Meanwhile, separate figures from the ONS showed Britain's trade gap narrowed in February, but its trade deficit with the EU widened to a fresh record ahead of the summer referendum.

It said the UK's trade deficit with the EU hit £8.6 billion in the month, and £23.8 billion in the three months to January.

In Europe, Germany's Dax was up 0.96% and the Cac 40 in France rose 1.35%.

The pound was also up 0.4% against the dollar at 1.40, as sterling held strong despite disappointing economic news for manufacturing and UK trade.

The pound also rose slightly against the euro to 1.24.

Elsewhere, womenswear retailer Bonmarche said it is "cautious" about high street trading this year after colder weather hit the sales of new spring ranges.

The Wakefield-based firm said like-for-like sales edged up 0.4% in the 13 weeks to March 26, compared with a jump of 4.7% in the same period a year ago. Total sales lifted 5.2% in the period.

The group now says its profit will be at the lower end of its December guidance, which cut full-year pre-tax profit by as much as 20% to between £10.5 million and £12 million.

Shares slumped by almost 10%, or 18p, to 170p.

Marks and Spencer continued its gains from the previous session when shares lifted on better-than-expected sales results.

The retail giant's clothing and home like-for-like sales tumbled 2.7% in the 13 weeks to March 26, as price deflation created a ''challenging backdrop'' for trade.

But it beat City expectations of a 3.4% fall and improved on the third quarter when sales slumped 5.8%.

Shares were up 11.2p to 444.2p.

Information services firm Experian saw its shares come under pressure after it was hit with a broker downgrade by HSBC, with s hares dropping 16p to 1239p.

The biggest risers in the FTSE 100 Index were Anglo American up 41.1p to 547.2p, BHP Billiton up 33p to 760.5p, Royal Dutch Shell up 64.5p to 1740.5p, and Rio Tinto up 70p to 1987.5p.

The biggest fallers in the FTSE 100 Index were Experian down 16p to 1239p, Shire down 43p to 4250p, Schroders down 24p to 2500p, and Berkeley Group down 22p to 3124p.