Belfast Telegraph

FTSE 100 Index closes at all-time high

London's top-flight index rose to record heights as European markets cheered a US rate hike and a snub for populists in the Dutch elections.

The FTSE 100 Index raced to a mid-session record of 7444.62, before paring gains to lift 47.31 points to an all-time closing high of 7415.95.

The rally was largely driven by the US Federal Reserve's decision on Wednesday to raise American interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point to a range of 0.75% to 1%.

It was the second rate rise in three months, with the US central bank forecasting two further increases this year as the American economy continues to surge following the US election.

Despite the boost, the London market gave up some of its mid-session gains after the pound jumped in response to the Bank of England's decision to keep interest rates on hold at 0.25%.

Sterling was 0.6% ahead versus the US dollar at 1.236 after m inutes of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting showed that while eight members backed the no-change decision, outgoing rate-setter Kristin Forbes voted for a rise to 0.5%.

Ms Forbes, who leaves at the end of June, made the move amid fears that inflation is ''rising quickly and was likely to remain above target for at least three years'', according to the report.

While it marks the first non-unanimous vote since last summer, it also comes as the first call for a rate increase since January 2016.

The MPC's decision helped drive the pound 0.6% higher against the euro at 1.151.

Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, said rising inflation may push the MPC towards a more hawkish position.

"The pound certainly thought so, at least, rising half a percent against the dollar to a two-week high having been in the red by the same amount earlier in the day after the Queen gave her Royal Assent for the triggering of Article 50.

"The currency also likely benefited from Theresa May's repeated statement that 'now is not the time' for a second referendum on Scottish independence, the Prime Minister keen to put another roadblock in the way of Nicola Sturgeon's planned vote."

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany's Dax rose by 0.6% and France's Cac 40 was 0.5% ahead as investors breathed a sigh of relief at Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's election victory over far-right leader Geert Wilders.

The price of oil eased back into negative territory despite official data showing US stockpiles had slipped into reverse from record highs.

Brent crude was down 0.2% to 51.71 US dollars a barrel.

In UK stocks, Anglo American was in the ascendancy after Volcan Investments snapped up a 12% stake in the mining giant.

The £2 billion grab by Volcan, the family trust of Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal, caused Anglo shares to surge more than 8%, or 103p, to 1,297.5p.

Miners also dominated the rest of the biggest risers, with Glencore up 16.3p to 341.4p and Antofagasta rising 37.5p to 844p.

Sainsbury's eased back after it said trading remains "very competitive" and warned over ongoing price pressures from the weak pound as it saw supermarket sales slip.

The group posted a 0.5% fall in like-for-like supermarket sales, excluding fuel, in its fourth quarter to March 11, down from a rise of 0.1% in the previous three months.

Overall trading was boosted by a robust performance from its recently acquired Argos chain, which notched up a 4.3% rise in like-for-like sales over the nine weeks.

The Argos sales hike helped lift group-wide comparable sales into positive territory, up 0.3% in the fourth quarter.

Shares in the Big Four grocer fell 3.3p to 268.1p.

The biggest risers in the FTSE 100 Index were Anglo American up 103p to 1,297.5p, Glencore up 16.3p to 341.4p, Antofagasta up 37.5p to 844p, Fresnillo up 57p to 1,510p.

The biggest fallers in the FTSE 100 Index were Hikma Pharmaceuticals down 107p to 2,190p, Direct Line Insurance down 12.5p to 333.8p, Merlin Entertainments down 14.5p to 481.8p, Morrison's down 4.1p to 235.5p.