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London's main index ends strong with biggest weekly rise in two months

FILE PHOTO: Traders work at their desks at CMC Markets in London, Britain, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/John Sibley

By Muvija M

(Reuters) - Britain's FTSE 100 held firmly at its six-month high, marking a strong finish to the week as better-than-expected U.S. jobs data eased fears of a global economic slowdown while the pound weakened on growing Brexit jitters and lifted exporters.

The blue-chip index advanced 0.6 percent, outshining its European peers and recording its biggest weekly gain in two months, while the midcaps rose 0.2 percent as weakness in the local currency capped gains.

Oil majors Shell and BP surged over 1 percent, tracking a rise in oil prices over fears that an escalating conflict in Libya could disrupt oil supplies from the OPEC member. [O/R]

Miners followed suit, with a 0.8 percent rise as they found their support in higher Zinc prices.

The FTSE 100 was already cheery as international companies rose on expectations that a China-U.S. trade dispute could be nearing an end, with President Donald Trump saying a deal could be reached in about four weeks.

Financial heavyweights with a larger exposure to Asian markets, such as HSBC and Prudential, were among the biggest boosts.

The blue-chips, which earn 70 percent of their profits in the U.S. dollar, got a boost from sterling, which weakened as doubts mounted over British Prime Minister Theresa May's attempt to further delay Brexit.

May wrote to Brussels asking to delay Britain's EU exit date until the end of June to allow lawmakers to agree a withdrawal deal, but Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, has proposed a longer postponement of one year.

Dublin's main index, considered a gauge of Brexit fears, jumped 1.1 percent to levels not seen since October.

"Irish stocks were under pressure recently and it has been overly priced in that a no-deal Brexit is going to happen. I think it is more of a relief rally for Irish stocks," CMC Markets analyst David Madden said.

A sour spot on the UK markets were housebuilders, which slumped 1 percent after data from mortgage lender Halifax showed that house prices dipped last month. Prices have been under pressure as Britons have held back on buying homes due to Brexit uncertainties.

The price drop "was an unpleasant reminder to the sector over what is at stake, and potentially a tease for a nastier drop if the UK does crash out of the European Union without an agreement in place", Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell said.

The sector has lost 2 percent since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, heavily underperforming a 17 percent gain in the FTSE 100 over the same period.

Among midcaps, power generator ContourGlobal jumped 7 percent after hiking its dividend for 2018, while Funding Circle slumped 8 percent after saying it plans to close its listed fund Funding Circle SME Income Fund.


(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Muvija M; additional reporting by Samantha Machado in Bengaluru; Editing by Alison Williams and Ed Osmond)