LONDON, March 18 (AFP): British investors will be hoping that London's FTSE 100 index of leading shares next week pushes back above 6,000 points, a level reached Friday for the first time in five years.
The City, London's financial district, was meanwhile gearing up for next Wednesday's annual British budget from Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.
On Friday, the FTSE 100 index of leading shares closed at 5,999.40 points, a gain of 1.55 per cent or 91.5 points from the previous week. It earlier hit an intra-day high of 6,044.00 points-the highest level since March 8, 2001.
"The recent drivers in the market have been numerous," noted Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers.
"Ongoing merger and acquisition activity, strong corporate earnings, the return of capital to shareholders in terms of dividends and buybacks, the strength of oil and commodity prices and even a tentative recovery in property prices have all added to the general feel-good factor in the market," he added.
Insurers led the FTSE 100 index higher Friday after Legal and General delivered a better-than-expected 43-per cent rise in annual profit.
Meanwhile Vodafone, the world's biggest mobile phone company, saw its share price rise ahead of profit-taking Friday, after agreeing to sell its struggling Japanese unit to the country's Internet and telecoms group Softbank Corp for 8.9 billion pounds (12.8 billion euros, 15.6 billion dollars).
Vodafone said it would use the money to return 6.0 billion pounds in cash to shareholders.
The London Stock Exchange, which trades on the second tier FTSE 250, saw its own share price rocket by more than 30.0 per cent Monday as dealers bet on a renewed offer for Europe's biggest equity market.
On March 10 the LSE had turned down a preliminary bid of 950 pence per share from the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York that valued its British rival at about 2.42 billion pounds.
The LSE share price went on to hit a historic high 1,205.50 pence Tuesday.
Hunter added that further gains to British share prices were dependent on factors "such as oil prices and the quality of future earnings".
While high oil prices tend to weigh on most companies' costs, they result in bumper earnings for energy groups including Royal Dutch Shell and BP.
These giants of the British corporate world will be closely watching Brown's budget to see if he decides on any fresh oil-related taxes.
In his pre-budget report last December, Brown decided to double the tax on profits of oil groups operating in the North Sea to 20 per cent.