FTSE pushed up by buoyant banking sector


UK stocks were pushed up by a buoyant banking sector today and gains for mobile operator mmO2, while Wall Street added to the cheer with modest gainsafter a good start to the reporting season.

The FTSE 100 benchmark index was up 36.1 points, or one per cent, at 3,844.2 by 2 p.m. (Irish time). The market has rallied 17 per cent over the past five weeks but is still four per cent below where it started the year.

A flood of results are due out from both US and UKcompanies this week. But despite encouraging news from financialservices giant Citigroup, market observers remained wary.

Mobile phone operator mmO2 was the biggest FTSE gainer. Theshares rose 5.5 per cent to trade around a five-month high aftermmO2 sold its ailing Dutch unit for €25 million.

Merrill Lynch upgraded the stock to "buy" and said the salewas good news for shareholders and the company.

Lloyds TSB was another top riser, up 3.6 per cent on a reportit is looking to sell its New Zealand banking unit, said to beworth up to $3.26 billion. Lloyds declined to comment on theweekend story in the Australian Financial Review.

Other banks also fared well, including Abbey National andHBOS, both 2.7 percent better. The sector accounted for a thirdof the FTSE's overall gains.

Dealers said banking stocks were seen as an obvious play forinvestors betting on an improvement in the economy.