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Market heavyweights help fuel FTSE surge

THE wider FTSE 100 Index was up 81.1 points to 6672.7 after a decent showing from a number of high-profile companies.

They included market heavyweight BP, which added 2% or 9.7p to 491.8p, while Asia-focused insurer Prudential was 31p higher at 1309p.

Markets were buoyed by testimony from new US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen emphasising continuity over the interest rate policy pursued by her predecessor Ben Bernanke.

Germany's Dax rose 2% and France's Cac 40 by 1%.

On the currency markets, the prospect of continuing low interest rates in the US saw the pound strengthen against the greenback, up one cent to 1.65 US dollars, while sterling was flat against the single currency at 1.21 euros. In London, Barclays led a shortened fallers' board after it revealed that profits in its investment bank division slumped 37% to £2.5 billion over 2013.

Overall underlying profit for the final three months of 2013 was also significantly lower, plunging by £1.2bn quarter on quarter to £191 million, after being dragged down by factors such as litigation and regulation penalties. Shares were off 10.3p at 264.7p.

Supermarkets also featured on the fallers' board after Kantar Worldpanel reported the weakest growth in the overall grocery sector since 2005.

It said till rolls were 2.4% higher in the 12 weeks to February 2, with discounters Aldi and Lidl continuing to put pressure on Tesco's sales, which were down 0.4% in the period, as well as Morrisons, off 2.5%.

Tesco shares were 5p lower at 318.7p and Morrisons slipped 3.1p to 237.2p.

Sainsbury's was 7.3p down at 348.9p, despite growing its market share to 17.1% in the latest Kantar figures.

Non-food retailers looked to have fared better over the winter after the British Retail Consortium said that retail sales in January rose 5.4% on a year ago, the best performance since March 2010.

Furniture and flooring retailers have been among those to benefit, prompting shares in B&Q owner Kingfisher to rise 11.7p to 376.8p. Home Retail Group, which trades as Argos and Homebase, added 9.6p to 190.4p in the FTSE 250 Index.

Thomas Cook shares were down 2.4p to 183p after it announced a £10m drop in first quarter losses to £56m.

The company has been impacted by the political turmoil in Egypt but chief executive Harriet Green reported further progress in the company's turnaround plan.

The biggest FTSE 100 risers were Fresnillo, up 49p to 911.5p, Babcock International, up 53p to 1395p, Randgold Resources, up 175p to 4705p and Amec, up 39p to 1112p.

The biggest FTSE 100 fallers were Barclays, RSA Insurance, down 3.4p to 99.1p, Sainsbury's and Tesco.

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