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FTSE 100 forges ahead on back of property

London's FTSE 100 Index outpaced other European markets today after a strong session boosted by property and commodity-based stocks.

The performance reflected relief at a bigger-than-expected rebound in lending figures in China, easing worries fuelled by recent cooler retail sales and manufacturing growth figures for the country.

The index finished 72.4 points higher at 6736, a three-week high and in contrast to the flat showing by the Dax in Frankfurt and Cac 40 in Paris. US markets were closed for a public holiday.

Mining stocks played a big part in London's rally, with Anglo American up 2% or 32.5p to 1552p and Randgold Resouces 83p higher at 4857p after another upward session for the price of gold. Shares improved despite disappointment from Japan, where the economy grew 0.3% in the final quarter of last year, compared with forecasts of a rise of 0.7%.

Recent slower growth in China and other major Asian markets has taken a toll on Japan's exports, although wider market fears over the health of emerging markets appears to be receding.

On currency markets, the pound reached another four-year high against the US dollar of 1.68 before falling back to just above 1.67. There was a similar performance against the euro at 1.22.

Sterling's strength has been good for holidaymakers but poses a problem for attempts to re-balance growth through manufacturing and exports.

The prospect of further gains will be tested this week with important economic releases on unemployment, inflation, retail sales and public borrowing.

Property firm Hammerson, whose portfolio of 20 shopping centres in the UK and France includes the Bullring in Birmingham, led the FTSE 100 risers board after it reported a better-than-expected 2.1% gain in net rental income for 2013.

The company, which said its occupancy rate stood at 97.7%, also reported a 5.7% rise in its net asset value per share - a key benchmark for the industry. Shares rose 3% or 17p to 560.5p, while rival property firms British Land added 15.5p to 680p and Land Securities gained 20p to 1064p.

Fresh from the appointment of former RBS chief executive Stephen Hester as its new boss, RSA Insurance continued to do well as its shares improved another 2.35p to 98.2p. RBS was 9.2p higher at 351.8p.

On the fallers board, Rolls-Royce slipped another 19p to 1006p after last week's profits warning.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Hammerson up 17p at 560.5p, Royal Bank of Scotland ahead 9.2p at 351.8p, Imperial Tobacco up 57p at 2357p and RSA Insurance ahead 2.35p at 98.2p.

The biggest fallers were Rolls-Royce, Aberdeen Asset Management off 7.4p at 394p, International Airlines Group down 2.2p at 444.2p and Mondi off 5p at 1023p.

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