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Aviva stock hits highest level for five years

AVIVA boss Mark Wilson received the thumbs up from investors for his turnaround efforts as better-than-expected results sparked an 8% shares rally.

The stock hit its highest level for more than five years after Aviva posted a profits haul of £2.2 billion, which compared with a loss of £2.9 bn a year earlier.

London's wider FTSE 100 Index edged 13.1 points higher to 6788.5 in a session when European markets showed signs of settling down after the shock of the Ukraine crisis earlier in the week.

The pound weakened against the euro after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi struck a positive tone on the region's economic prospects in a press conference after rates were left unchanged.

Sterling fell a cent to just under 1.21 euros, while it held firm at 1.67 US dollars, with little reaction from the Bank of England's decision also to keep UK interest rates on hold, at 0.5%.

The announcement was expected, but a flurry of recent comments from members of the Bank's monetary policy committee has signalled that rates may rise next year as the economic recovery picks up pace. The biggest movement in London's top flight came from Aviva, with its recovery since Mr Wilson's appointment a year ago taking centre stage.

Figures improved as operating expenses fell 7% and the value of new business rose 13% after a drive to exit low-margin, under-performing businesses.

Panmure Gordon stockbrokers placed a buy rating on the stock although Mr Wilson told investors there was still work to do and that he had not yet unlocked the full potential of the group. Shares were 37.9p higher at 504p.

In other corporate news, engineering group IMI became the biggest FTSE 100 faller after a 21% rise in operating profits for last year failed to meet City expectations.

Looking ahead, the group expects modest revenues growth in the first half with margins slightly lower than the same period a year earlier. Shares fell 67p to 1481p, a drop of 4%.

Cineworld edged up 2.75p, or 1%, to 312p following a 10.4% rise in adjusted profits to £44.7m in spite of 2013 being short of major box office hits.

The company said its success was underpinned by Despicable Me 2 and Les Miserables, which both grossed in excess of £40m in the UK.

Construction firm Balfour Beatty was 7% or 23.8p lower at 297.6p as it blamed operational issues in UK construction and a downturn in the Australian mining sector for a poor financial performance, with profits down 32% to £187 million last year.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Aviva up 37.9p to 504p, Schroders ahead 137p to 2727p, Fresnillo 35p stronger at 948p and Aggreko 55p higher at 1628p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were IMI down 67p to 1481p, Shire off 77p to 3290p, easyJet 28p lower at 1711p and Meggitt 7.4p weaker at 479.2p.

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