* FTSE 100 index rises 0.6 percent
* Shire (LSE: SHP.L – news) advances on report of new takeover bid
* BP (LSE: BP.L – news) up; raises dividend, promises more share buybacks
* St. James’s Place gains on positive update
By Tricia Wright
LONDON, April 29 (Reuters) – Britain’s top shares hit a seven-week high on Tuesday, bolstered by more deal news in the pharmaceuticals sector alongside upbeat corporate earnings reports from BP and wealth manager St. James’s Place.
Shire climbed 4 percent, the top percentage gainer on the blue-chip FTSE 100 index, after Reuters reported that Botox-maker Allergan Inc (NYSE: AGN – news) was preparing a fresh takeover approach.
The UK drugmaker, which on Tuesday tested record highs hit in March, has advanced about 20 percent over the last two weeks, fuelled by speculation it been rebuffing approaches from U.S. rivals such as Allergan.
An upbeat results statement lifted BP 0.7 percent and, along with Shire, the oil major was one of the biggest points contributors to the UK benchmark as it raised its quarterly dividend for the second time in six months and said more share buy-backs were on the cards.
British wealth manager St. James’s Place, which said it got off to a strong start in 2014, and hotel and coffee shop operator Whitbread (LSE: WTB.L – news) , which beat full-year profit forecasts, both gained 1 percent.
“Investors are waiting to see the start of some positive earnings momentum, which has been missing in recent years. Any sign of a positive momentum is likely to support share prices,” James Butterfill, global equity strategist at Coutts, said.
“We are also witnessing the biggest indicative M&A activities since the credit crisis, highlighting that corporate confidence is improving,” he added.
The FTSE index was up 42.28 points, or 0.6 percent, at 6,742.44 points, after hitting an intra-day peak of 6,751.06 points, its highest level since early March.
Barclays Capital analyst Lynnden Branigan said that a close above the high seen on April 4, at 6,706, could pave the way for the index to rise to the high seen on March 4, at 6,827.
(Additional reporting by Atul Prakash Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)