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FTSE edges higher after boost to eurozone

BETTER-than-expected European growth figures helped markets edge higher as investors cheered signs the region's recovery is finally gathering pace.

The 17-nation eurozone bloc, which came out of recession at the beginning of last year, posted gross domestic product growth of 0.3% in the final quarter of 2013, compared with 0.1% in the previous three month period and forecasts for a rise of 0.2%.

Germany's Dax closed 0.7% higher, while the Cac 40 in France lifted 0.6%, but there was a more lacklustre response on London's FTSE 100 Index despite hopes surrounding Britain's major trading partner, with the top tier finishing just 4.2 points higher at 6663.6.

The eurozone figures showed Germany's output rose 0.4% in the final quarter of 2013 following a boost for its exporters, while the French economy grew by 0.3% in the same period.

The pound maintained its rally seen after Wednesday's sharp growth forecast upgrade from the Bank of England and amid reinforced expectations for an interest rate hike next year.

Sterling climbed another cent higher to 1.67 US dollars - its highest level since April 2011 - and held firm at 1.22 euros.

Mining stocks dominated the FTSE 100 risers board, thanks to forecast-beating results from Anglo American and rising metals prices.

But a bout of profit taking saw Anglo's shares lose early session gains, closing 14p lower at 1519.5p, despite its lower-than-feared 7% slide in underlying earnings to 2.7 billion US dollars (£1.6 billion).

Morrisons was one of the biggest fallers in the top flight after this week's latest disappointing market share figures from Kantar Worldpanel prompted a ratings downgrade from analysts at Exane BNP Paribas.

Kantar's till-roll figures showed Morrisons sales were down 2.5% in the 12 weeks to February 2. Shares fell 2.3p to 233.8p, while Sainsbury's lost 6.8p to 345.2p.

Other fallers included Vodafone after it said it would pay £1.9 billion on additional spectrum licences to boost mobile services in India. Shares fell 3.1p to 218.4p.

Shares in Severn Trent were 22p higher at 1772p as it said there was currently no material financial impact from the floods which have affected large parts of its region.

It said its trading performance for the year to March 31 had been in line with expectations, with consumption slightly higher than a year earlier and bad debt levels maintained at around 2.2% of turnover.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Fresnillo, up 49p to 971.5p, Mondi, 48.5p higher at 1028p, Petrofac, ahead 52p at 1317p and Antofagasta, 33p stronger at 938.5p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Coca-Cola HBC, down 36p to 1553p, Imperial Tobacco, off 51p to 2300p, Sainsbury's and Rolls-Royce, down 20p to 1025p.

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