Strong miners nudge Britain's FTSE to three-week high

* FTSE 100 index up 0.3 percent

* Cyclical miners extend recent gains, helped by U.S. data

* Pearson (NYSE: PSO – news) , Resolution slip after trading ex-dividend

By Tricia Wright

LONDON, April 2 (Reuters) – Britain’s top shares rose to three-week highs on Wednesday as encouraging economic news in the United States bolstered cyclical mining companies.

The FTSE 100 was up 16.31 points, or 0.3 percent, at 6,668.92 points by 1452 GMT, its highest since March 12.

Technical analysts saw scope for the index to move towards the top end of the range where it has been stuck since late October, between about 6,400 to 6,800.

Barclays Capital analyst Lynnden Branigan cited a strong close on Tuesday, when the index rose above its recent mini trading range – where resistance was seen around 6,620 – as a positive. An intra-day move on Wednesday above its 100-day moving average at 6,658 could signal more gains.

“I think in terms of upside, we’re now initially looking at a Fibonacci retracement (of the down-move from late February to late March) at 6,723,” he said.

Helping to underpin the rise, U.S. companies stepped up hiring in March and factory orders rose solidly in February, in the latest signs the economy was regaining its footing after a brutal winter.

Miners built on gains seen on Tuesday when more downbeat economic data from China supported a view that Beijing would announce further measures to steady growth, and investors were optimistic BHP Billiton (NYSE: BBL – news) would shed unloved assets.

Major mining firms have been getting rid of assets in the past years as they pledge better returns for shareholders.

“Any sort of cyclical optimism … and I think the market’s going to look very similar to what we’re seeing today with basic resources… at the top of the performance chart,” Ian Richards, global head of equities strategy at Exane BNP Paribas, said.

“We still think that that’s probably one of the biggest valuation plays in the market… I think it’s not going to take too much to push investors into that area given the free cash flow generation story.”

The STOXX Europe 600 Basic Resources (Frankfurt: W8Z.F – news) index trades at a 12-month forward price/earnings ratio of 11.9 times, against a late February peak of 12.9 times, Thomson Reuters Datastream shows.

Limiting the index’s gains were stocks trading ex-dividend – including Resolution and Pearson (Dusseldorf: PES.DU – news) – which knocked 3.78 points off the index on Wednesday. (Additional reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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