By Atul Prakash

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s top share index edged higher by midday on Thursday as corporate dealmaking hopes bolstered tobacco stocks and encouraging data from China underpinned miners.

The FTSE 100 .FTSE index was up 0.1 percent at 6,827.42 points by 1206 BST, trading about 1 percent shy of the record high of 6,950.60 points it hit in December 1999.

Deal-making activity again gave the market a fillip, with British American Tobacco BATS.L helping the FTSE 100 on news it could back a potential merger between Reynolds American RAI.N and Lorillard LO.N.

“The environment for M&A is quite positive at the moment as uncertainties are diminishing and confidence of companies CEOs is rising. We are also seeing an improvement in economic activity,” James Butterfill, global equity strategist at Coutts, said.

“It’s quite likely that M&A activities will remain robust and continue to provide support to the stock market.”

Tobacco stocks added the most points to the index. British American Tobacco rose 2.2 percent and Imperial Tobacco IMT.L was 1.5 percent higher.

The news, which follows a burst of deal-making and bids in recent weeks, gave strength to a view that the FTSE 100 index will hit record highs in the near term.

Miners, fuelled by signs of stabilisation in top metals consumer China’s wobbly economy, also propped up the FTSE 100. The country’s factory sector turned in its best performance in five months in May, a private survey showed.

The UK mining index .FTNMX1770 was up 0.9 percent, helped by a 2 percent gain in Antofagasta ANTO.L and a 1.1 percent rise in Rio Tinto RIO.L.

Bucking the trend, recently privatised Royal Mail RMG.L fell 7.6 percent to 541.5 pence, the biggest FTSE 100 faller, after it warned on competition as it reported a rise in profits.

Jordan Hiscott, senior trader at ayondo markets, said with the shares having recently been at the upper end of their recent range, and some 70 percent above the 330 pence flotation price, the figures would have needed to impress to drive further gains.

“This morning’s release of the headline figure for the full year pre-tax profit, coming in at 363 million pounds, instead of the expected 400 million shows increasing challenges in the face of competition.”

AstraZeneca AZN.L fell 2.3 percent on continued uncertainty over whether a $ 118 billion takeover bid by Pfizer PFE.N might be revived, following gains over more than 2 percent on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Tricia Wright; Editing by John Stonestreet)