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Blue-chip share index close to all-time high

London's blue-chip share index has edged closer to an all-time high in the wake of continued optimism over signs that the US economy is on the right track.

Jobs figures on Friday showing that employers in America added 217,000 jobs last month saw markets finish on the front foot, with New York's Dow Jones Industrial Average setting a new all-time high.

The positive sentiment spilled over into the latest session on this side of the Atlantic, with the FTSE 100 Index closing 16.8 points ahead at 6875, less than 60 points shy of its record closing level.

In Europe, Germany's Dax and France's Cac 40 also climbed, while the Dow Jones was up too at the time of the close in London.

On currency markets, the pound held firm against the dollar at 1.68 US dollars while it rose against the single currency - still subdued after last week's latest interest rate cut - to 1.24 euros. In London, mining stocks helped the top-flight as Chinese trade figures painted a mixed picture for the world's number two economy, with a seven per cent rise in exports resulting in the highest trade surplus in more than five years. This was offset by a surprise drop in imports, which will cast doubt on the strength of consumer demand and attempts to balance the country's economy.

Among the miners, BHP Billiton rose 12p to 1904p and Rio Tinto lifted 4p to 3172.5p, while Antofagasta climbed 8.5p to 781p and Fresnillo was up 8.5p to 784p.

Other risers included Sports Direct International after the retailer's board unveiled a third attempt to pass a bonus scheme for founder Mike Ashley. The plan, which is due before shareholders on July 2, will grant 25 million shares, worth around £200 million, among 3,000 employees if stretching earnings targets are hit. The targets warmed the company's share price, which lifted 12p to 825p.

Lloyds Banking Group shares were near the top of the FTSE 100 Index fallers board after it priced shares in its TSB unit at below the current book value of £1.5 billion. The price range of 220p to 290p gives the challenger bank a market capitalisation of between £1.1 billion and £1.4 billion. Lloyds shares were nearly 2 per cent lower, off 1.3p to 78.8p, in a session when state-backed counterpart Royal Bank of Scotland lifted 4.6p to 343.2p.

Some reports have suggested RBS is planning a new push to persuade the government to start selling down its 82 per cent stake, possibly through a £5 billion share placing.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Barratt Developments, up 9.3p at 375.9p, Sports Direct up 12p at 825p, ARM Holdings up 12.5p at 909.5p and Royal Bank of Scotland up 4.6p at 343.2p. The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Babcock International, down 24p at 1226p, Lloyds Banking Group down 1.3p at 78.8p, Aberdeen Asset Management down 7.4p at 454.6p and St James's Place down 10.5p at 816.5p.

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