By Tricia Wright

LONDON (Reuters) – The FTSE 100 inched higher on Friday, as easyJet rose to fresh record highs on robust traffic figures, though in the broader market investors were reluctant to place big bets ahead of key U.S. jobs data later in the day.

EasyJet rose 3.1 percent in brisk trade after it unveiled a 4.8 percent rise in passenger traffic in March, compared with a 4 percent decline reported by rival budget airline Ryanair on Thursday.

“EasyJet’s one of my favourite stocks. They’ve got very good pricing, they’ve managed to keep their costs down, and they’re increasing their average revenue per seat,” said Joe Rundle, head of trading at ETX Capital.

“I think they’re well positioned for business travel and for holiday travel, which is why you’re seeing their numbers go up.”

Rundle saw scope for easyJet’s share price – currently at 1,845 pence – to hit 2,000 pence.

Trading volume in easyJet stood at around half its 90-day daily average, compared with turnover for the FTSE 100 of just a tenth its average.

The FTSE 100 was up 23.72 points, or 0.4 percent, at 6,672.86 points by 9:14 a.m, within touching distance of three-week highs.

The U.S. jobs data will take centre stage on Friday, although some analysts are likely to remain bullish on the market even in the event of a downbeat report.

Underpinning sentiment was European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s affirmation on Thursday of an easy policy stance. That followed Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s defence of the U.S. central bank’s easy-money policies and China’s move to unveil fresh economic stimulus measures earlier in the week.

Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said these three factors would cushion the market from any serious market weakness should the U.S. jobs data disappoint.

“There could be some downside. I don’t think it would be too significant,” he said.

“We certainly got some broader support from the ECB yesterday … we did see some sort of, relatively small, but some sort of stimulus package in China … Obviously Janet Yellen gave some very supportive comments as well.”

Data due at 1:30 p.m. is expected to show U.S. jobs growth accelerated in March as the winter’s gloom started to lift, with nonfarm payrolls probably increasing by 200,000, the largest gain in four months, according to a Reuters poll.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)