Belfast Telegraph

FTSE 100 sets fresh intraday high as house building stocks surge

House builders propelled the FTSE 100 to yet another mid-session record high after Persimmon reported a double-digit rise in half-year sales.

London's top flight index set a fresh intraday high of 7,211.96 points in early trading on Thursday, surging past Tuesday's record of 7,205.45.

If it manages to sustain gains, the FTSE 100 could notch up its sixth consecutive all-time closing high after reaching 7,189.74 on Wednesday.

The biggest winners were house building stocks, pulled higher by Persimmon, which rose more than 5% as it cheered "healthy" demand amid a 10% surge in half-year sales despite uncertainty after the Brexit vote.

It said the autumn selling season had seen robust sales reservations, boosted by readily available mortgage deals. Persimmon said it had 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 3%, while Barratt Developments rose by 2.7%.

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 .

"N o wonder they are set to be among the biggest dividend payers on the FTSE this year."

In currency markets, sterling trimmed losses after data showed services sector activity jumped to a 17-month high in December as the British economy continues to exhibit signs of resilience in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

The pound was nearly flat against the dollar at 1.231 after dropping as much as 0.3% ahead of the release. Against the euro, sterling was down 0.3% at 1.171.

The Markit/CIPS UK services purchasing managers' survey (PMI) came in at 56.2, higher than November's 55.2 and surpassing economist expectations for 54.7.

A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Across Europe, the French Cac 40 was down 0.15% while the German Dax fell just over 0.1%.

In oil markets, Brent crude was down 0.35% at around 56.22 US dollars per barrel (£45.69) as investor excitement over a deal between Opec members and other major producers to cut output waned.

Away from the UK's top tier index, Johnson Service Group shares rose nearly 0.9% after Timpson - best-known for shoe repairs and key cutting - snapped up its drycleaning business for £8.25 million.

Johnson said the deal will enable it to focus on its higher margin workwear and linen rental business, adding that it will use the proceeds to reduce debt and pay towards its defined benefit pension scheme.

Rolls Royce shares were the worst performers on the FTSE 100, dropping nearly 4% after JPMorgan cut its price target for the stock.