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Housebuilders pull FTSE 100 higher as it nears all-time high

The FTSE 100 has continued to push toward an all-time high after surpassing 7,800 points on Thursday for the first time since May 2018.

The blue-chip index has been scaling new heights since the start of the new year, buoyed by the reopening of the Chinese economy and unexpectedly strong Christmas trading updates from big retailers.

On Thursday, it reached an intra-day high of 7,809.13.

It means it is about 100 points shy of reaching its all-time high of 7,903, recorded in May 2018.

Housebuilders Persimmon and Barratt Developments moved to the top of the FTSE 100 with gains of more than 6%, despite Persimmon warning over a slump in house sales towards the end of the year.

But the group still revealed an increase in house completions over the year and and flagged the launch of its new “10 months mortgage-free” scheme for buyers facing higher living costs, which may have given hope to investors.

Shares in Whitbread were also boosted after the Premier Inn owner hailed strong demand for budget hotel stays.

Solid gains for the FTSE 100 meant it closed 0.89% higher, or 69.06 points, at 7,794.04.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at online trading platform IG, said: “A slew of trading updates has pushed the FTSE 100 to 7,800 for the first time since May 2018, as the UK index continues to outshine its US peers.

“Housebuilders and retailers have found plenty to be cheery about, if only because things seem to have brightened considerably for the UK economy in the last few months.

“The second half of the year still seems murky, as everyone has been at pains to point out in their trading updates, but for now the situation seems a lot better than feared.”

Stock markets elsewhere in Europe continued the upward trend, with both the German Dax and the French Cac moving up 0.74%.

Across the pond, US inflation cooled in December, according to new figures which indicate that inflation is fading for the world’s largest economy.

The S&P 500 was hovering around zero, but Dow Jones was up around 0.4% when European markets closed.

The pound was up by about 1.16% against the US dollar, at 1.2171, and down by 0.3% against the euro, to 1.125.

Asos investors breathed a sigh of relief as the business signalled that an end to its recent woes might be in sight.

The business said that while it expects to make a loss in the first half of the year, profitability will improve in the second half.

Shares rose by 22% following the news.

The business said that sales dropped 8% in the four months to the end of December as it was hit by Royal Mail strikes.

Customers instead chose to shop at high street rivals in the run up to Christmas.

British Gas owner Centrica saw its shares rise by 4.5% after the business upped earnings expectations for the year.

It did not give a reason for the upgrade, however analysts speculated that its trading and energy storage divisions might be to thank.

Tesco revealed that its sales rose nearly 8% on a like-for-like basis in the six months to January 7.

Fresh food sales were particularly strong, the business said.

Shares dipped by 0.8%.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Persimmon, up 108p to 1,404p, Barratt Developments, up 28.3p to 451.2p, M&G, up 11.9p to 202.7p, JD Sports Fashion, up 8.95p to 159.7p, and Whitbread, up 165p to 3,020p.

The biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 were B&M European Value Retail, down 19.9p to 432p, Sage Group, down 15.4p to 767.6p, Beazley, down 11p to 655.5p, AstraZeneca, down 186p to 11,448p, and SSE, down 22.5p to 1,670p.