RSA helps UK FTSE snap 5-day losing run

Wed Feb 5, 2014 6:31am EST

* FTSE 100 up 0.3 pct, snaps 5-day losing streak

* RSA bounces after CEO appointment

* Financials mixed with Hargreaves Lansdown down 6.3 pct

By Francesco Canepa

LONDON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Britain's top equity index snapped a five-day losing streak on Wednesday, helped by insurer RSA as investors welcomed the appointment of ex-Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester as chief executive.

Shares in RSA rose 3.2 percent on expectations Hester, credited with salvaging RBS, would help turn around the insurer, which is struggling with a 200 million pound ($330 million) hole in its finances following an accounting scandal.

The stock had fallen 25 percent in the previous 12 months, lagging a 20 percent rally for the British insurance sector and leaving RSA trading at a discount to all its peers based on expected earnings and book value, Thomson Reuters data showed.

"Having someone on board of Stephen's calibre and track record is certainly supportive," said Marcus P Rivaldi, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, who expected the stock to start outperforming its peers.

"The key thing is having the balance sheet issue put to bed fairly rapidly... and then you have a capacity to see the stock normalising in terms of assumptions on multiples."

Analysts Barclays also welcomed the appointment, upgrading the stock to "equal weight" from "underweight".

Volume on RSA's shares was nearly three times its full-day average for the past three months, compared to FTSE 100 volume of less than 40 percent of the index's own average.

The FTSE was up 17.17 points, or 0.3 percent, at 6,466.44 points, steadying after it shed nearly 2 percent in the previous five days.

The index bounced back up after testing support at 6,422 in early deals, showing buyers were starting to come back into the market as it approached four-month lows.

Volatility on the index also remained subdued after falling from seven-month highs the previous day, suggesting investors' concerns are easing.

The recent falls in the FTSE - and rise in volatility - have come as concerns over U.S. growth compound fears over the resilience of emerging market economies, and traders said it was too early to know whether the index would hold its gains on Wednesday.

"Any move towards 6,400 is attracting some buying, (but) I'd want that area to hold for the week before I'd be sitting a little more comfortable on the long side," said Will Hedden, sales trader at IG.

"If you did well last year - which most equity investors did - then I don't see why you need to rush things at the moment."

He added that investors were cautious ahead of a European Central Bank meeting on Thursday and U.S. jobs numbers on Friday.

The FTSE 100 gained 14.4 percent last year, although emerging market turmoil has seen it lose around 4 percent so far in 2014.

The broader financial sector, which includes insurers, banks and asset managers, was mixed after Hargreaves Lansdown dropped 6.3 percent after results.

Traders note a fall in the company's interest margin and the fact that its decision to go back on an earlier plan to increase client fees could further impact its revenues and margins in the near-term.

Hargreaves Lansdown is up over 110 percent since the beginning of 2013.

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