By This Is Money Reporters
16.00: The Dow Jones has jumped 75 points to 15,928.6 as the latest US jobs figures suggest the economy is still on the recovery track.
The FTSE 100 was 50.1 points up at 6,699.2 shortly before the close.
US jobs hope: Signs are that the world’s largest economy is shifting into higher gear
The Dow Jones looks set for a robust open after news that 192,000 new jobs were added in the US last month.
There was further cheer from sizeable upward revisions to job creation numbers for both January and February. However, the US jobless rate remained unchanged at 6.7 per cent.
The FTSE 100 extended gains following this evidence that the world’s biggest economy is continuing to strengthen. London’s top index was 35.6 points higher at 6,684.8 in early afternoon trading.
Futures trading points to a higher open on the Dow Jones on the back of optimism over a pending US jobs report for March. In London, the FTSE 100 is up 24.5 points at 6,673.7.
On a quiet day for corporate news, easyJet saw its shares climb to fresh record highs after reporting robust growth in passenger numbers. The stock rose 2 per cent or 37.5p to 1828.5p.
Regional airline Flybe rose 6.6p to 157.9p, a gain of 6 per cent, after reporting a 6 per cent rise in passengers in its fourth quarter to March 31 following fare cuts.
It has also sold a fifth of seats for the summer season, up from 17 per cent a year earlier, in the latest sign that its turnaround is starting to bear fruit.
Blue chip fallers today included heavyweight stock Vodafone, which slipped 1.2p to 218p after a broker downgrade from Nomura, as well as Marks & Spencer ahead of what is expected to be another disappointing trading update next week.
M&S is predicted to report an 11th consecutive quarter of falling sales in its clothing and general merchandise division, with most analysts pencilling in a 1 per cent drop in the group’s final quarter.
Shares in the High Street stalwart fell 1.1p to 470.5p.
The FTSE 100 is holding onto gains in mid-morning trading – it’s ahead 27.7 points at 6,676.8.
Tesco shares slipped 1.8p to 289.9p following reports its finance director is poised to quit ahead of the group’s annual results in less than two weeks.
Laurie McIlwee, who has been with the group for 14 years, is understood to be planning to hand in his resignation following shareholder pressure and as speculation mounts over clashes with chief executive Philip Clarke on strategy.
The loss of McIlwee would heap further pressure on Clarke as he struggles to turn around flagging sales and profits at the chain.
Another blue chip finance chief move was in focus after Royal Bank of Scotland hired Ewen Stevenson to take over from Nathan Bostock.
Stevenson joins as chief financial officer from Credit Suisse, where he was co-head of investment banking for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and advised the Government on its bailouts of RBS and Lloyds Banking Group at the height of the financial crisis.
Shore Capital analysts said the decision ‘removes uncertainty around the position’ and shares responded with a 1.6p gain to 318.5p.
Low cost airline easyJet was the biggest riser in the FTSE 100, up 2 per cent or 38.5p to 1829.5p after it reported a 4.8 per cent hike year-on-year in passenger numbers last month.
Meanwhile, traders appear optimistic that an influential monthly US jobs report will bring good news later today.
Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG, said: ‘Markets have moved cautiously higher ahead of non-farm payrolls, with the FTSE 100 back at its three-week highs on hopes that the US has been able to throw off recent weather-related weakness in its job reports.
‘We wait to see whether the nation can bounce back from the winter slump in job creation. Although the ADP [US private sector jobs] number on Wednesday was a shade below expectations, the positive revisions to February’s figure and a strong employment number in the ISM non-manufacturing [services] purchasing managers’ index yesterday have bolstered expectations of a robust reading.’
Beauchamp says the median estimate of jobs created in the US last month is 200,000, which would be above the monthly average of 194,000 seen in 2013.
‘Some optimistic souls even posit a number closer to 250,000 or even 275,000, but most traders would prefer a figure that isn’t too strong, given the implications it would have for the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy,’ he said.
The FTSE 100 has opened 21.8 points higher at 6,671 as traders bet on further support from US jobs data due out later.
The keenly-watched non-farm payrolls report is expected to show US job growth accelerated in March as the winter’s gloom started to lift, giving the strongest signal yet that the world’s largest economy was shifting into higher gear.
However, Federal Reserve boss Janet Yellen reassured traders earlier this week when she suggested that the central bank’s ultra-easy stimulus policy would be needed for some time.
The European Central Bank’s president Mario Draghi also improved the mood by leaving open the possibility of unconventional stimulus measures, although no change in policy was announced yesterday.
The FTSE 100 fell 9.90 points to 6,649.14 yesterday after a volatile session as markets responded to Draghi’s remarks at a lunchtime press briefing.
Stocks to watch today include:
TESCO: Finance director Laurie McIlwee is set to resign as early as next week, days before Britain’s biggest retailer is expected to announce another sharp decline in profitability, the Financial Times reported.
LLOYDS BANKING GROUP: Lloyds will seek approval to boost the pay of up to 400 of its most senior staff, Sky News reported.
ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND: The bank has appointed a new finance director, poaching Ewen Stevenson from Credit Suisse where he was co-head of investment banking for Europe the Middle East and Africa.
STANDARD CHARTERED: Global head of mergers and acquisitions Andrew Suckling will take a one-year sabbatical less than two years after assuming the role, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
BARCLAYS: Barclays is seeking an investment bank to explore the potential sale of its Spanish business, with Merrill Lynch among the top candidates, according to media reports.
WPP: The world’s largest advertising group should be earning 15 per cent of its revenue from Latin America in five years, said chief executive Martin Sorrell.
EVRAZ: The steelmaker has sold Evraz Vitkovice Steel for $ 89million.
EASYJET: The budget airline said its passengers are up 4.8 per cent to 5,107,676.
EXPERIAN: A number of US states are jointly investigating a data breach involving a subsidiary of Experian that exposed the social security numbers of some 200million people to potential criminal activity.