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Investors raise a toast to festive FTSE rally

The FTSE 100 Index rallied for a fifth session in a row on Christmas Eve as investors bet on a further upturn in fortunes for the global economy next year.

The optimism was driven by Friday's upward revisions to growth figures both in the US and the UK, while statistics on Monday showed a healthy increase in consumer spending in America over the last month.

In a shortened session ahead of the Christmas break, the FTSE 100 Index built on Monday's 72-point improvement to close 15.6 points higher at 6694.2.

The return to a level last seen in mid-November has fuelled hopes that investors will soon be cheering an all-time high above 7000 in 2014.

Sentiment has benefited from the removal of uncertainty after US Federal Reserve policy-makers set out their plans for reducing the country's current package of stimulus measures during 2014.

In addition, investors were relieved by China's injection of 29 billion yuan (£2.9 billion) into the banking system.

Recent spikes in bank-to-bank lending rates have raised concerns that banks may restrain commercial lending and place pressure on the world's second-largest economy.

In a predictably quiet session of pre-Christmas trading, the pound was marginally higher against the US dollar at 1.63 and 1.19 versus the euro.

Home entertainment firm BSkyB secured the biggest rise in the FTSE 100 Index after it announced an investment worth 350,000 US dollars (£214,000) in Jaunt, a California-based technology company specialising in video capture and display.

Sky said the move would provide it with "additional insight" into developments within the field.

Shares were 20.5p higher at 833p, a rise of 2%.

Broadcast rival ITV rose 2.6p to 193p as a strong year for the commercial network drew to a close. Other stocks on the front foot included British Airways owner International Airlines Group after a rise of 6p to 400.8p, while house-builder Persimmon was 17p stronger at 1219p.

A number of retail stocks earned some relief from recent turbulence in the sector, with Sports Direct International up 9p to 726.5p and second-tier rival JD Sports Fashion ahead by 6% or 82p to 1426p.

However, Marks & Spencer was 1.6p lower at 445.5p after surrendering an initially strong start, while fashion chain Next was 10p lower at 5435p.

Albemarle & Bond shares were down 4%, off 0.75p at 18.5p, after turnaround firm Better Capital walked away from a potential offer for the cash-strapped pawnbroker. Albemarle said it remained in talks with other interested parties as it looks to secure a deal before a breach of financial covenants.

Rival chain H&T is among those thought to have expressed an interest in the business, which has around 200 outlets.

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