Healthcare deal hopes push FTSE to 7-week closing high

Thu Apr 24, 2014 12:15pm EDT

* FTSE 100 index adds 0.4 pct
    * Bid speculation boosts healthcare stocks
    * Renewed Ukraine worries cap index's advance

    By Tricia Wright
    LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) - Britain's top share index hit a
seven-week closing high on Thursday, bolstered by expectations
of deal-making in the healthcare sector, though renewed tension
in Ukraine dented the market's gains.
    Smith & Nephew, Europe's largest maker of artificial
hips and knees, led the blue-chip gains by rising 3.4 percent
after medical device maker Zimmer Holdings Inc said it
would buy orthopedic products company Biomet Inc. 
    The acquisition - the latest in a burst of deal-making and
bids in the healthcare industry aimed at either gaining scale or
specialising in certain disease areas - supported a long-held
view that Smith & Nephew might itself become a target.
    Trading volume in Smith & Nephew was strong, at 4-1/2 times
its 90-day daily average, contrasting with the FTSE 100 on about
three quarters.
    "The whole healthcare industry is about to go through a
massive phase of consolidation; Smith & Nephew has always been a
potential target of bid speculation," Joe Rundle, head of
trading at ETX Capital, said.
    The FTSE 100 closed up 28.26 points, or 0.4 percent,
at 6,703.00 points, its highest close since March 7, though off
an earlier peak of 6,724.
    AstraZeneca climbed 3.3 percent to a record high,
extending this week's strong advance on Pfizer's 
reported interest. 
    Britain's second-biggest drugmaker made no reference to the
Pfizer bid talk in its results statement on Thursday, noting
progress with new cancer drugs that might revive its fortunes as
it posted a 17 percent fall in core earnings per share.
    The cancer drugs are seen as a big draw for the U.S. group.
 
    Analysts at Deutsche Bank said the figures looked consistent
with full-year guidance and, to a degree, represented the calm
before the storm as comparisons should worsen from the second
quarter, adding that much of the focus in AstraZeneca remained
on deal making.
    AstraZeneca gave the biggest individual boost to the UK
benchmark by far, contributing around a quarter to the index's
points gain, in heavy trade, at about twice its 90-day daily
average.
    But the market's gains were eroded after Russian Defence
Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying that Russia had
begun military drills near the Ukrainian border in response to
operations by Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian separatists
and NATO exercises in eastern Europe. 
    The news prompted investors to lock in profits on a rally
which earlier in the session saw the FTSE 100 break through the
top of the range in which it has traded in the last few weeks,
where the peak was 6,706 points.
    "We are obviously still looking at an uptrend for the FTSE,
but until we get a daily close through that key resistance
metric, then you are probably going to see a sideways to
downside bias," IG chief market strategist Brenda Kelly said.   
 ($1 = 0.5960 British pounds)

 (Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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