* FTSE 100 index rises 0.5 percent
* Housebuilders firm; Persimmon results robust
* Soft UK inflation data cuts rate rise chances
* Imperial Tobacco gains on positive outlook
* BHP drops; holds off on share buyback
By Tricia Wright
LONDON, Aug 19 Britain's top share index climbed
to its highest level in nearly three weeks on Tuesday, bolstered
by housebuilding stocks after robust results from Persimmon
A day after Bovis Homes unveiled a big jump in
profits and upbeat dividend news, builder Persimmon delivered a
57 percent rise in pretax profit. It sold 6,408 new homes in the
six months to end-June and said it was trading ahead of last
year in the traditionally slower summer period.
"This is another strong set of results from a housebuilder,
backed up by substantial investment in the land bank, very
strong free cash flow generation, an improved balance sheet and
a significant payout to shareholders under the group's capital
return plan," said Mark Cartlich, analyst at Sanlam Securities.
Sentiment in the sector was also helped by data which showed
British inflation fell more than expected, easing pressure on
the Bank of England (BoE) to raise interest rates.
Persimmon rose 0.97 percent, while the Thomson Reuters UK
Homebuilding index was up 1.5 percent. It had
already been buoyed last week by a Quarterly Inflation Report
from the BoE that was perceived as dovish.
After the release of that report, Governor Mark Carney said
rates were unlikely to rise until wages picked up, although he
moderated those comments in an interview to a newspaper at the
The latest consumer inflation data, which showed that
inflation was well below the BoE's target of 2 percent, added to
expectations that rate hikes were likely only in the first
quarter of next year.
"I think the inflation figure from the Bank of England's
point of view should be a bit of a shocker really. It's very
subdued inflation, it's still below its target, and it just
seems nonsense for Carney to be talking about interest rate
rises," said Colin McLean, SVM Asset Management managing
He therefore saw the data as a positive for housebuilders,
as low interest rates translate into cheap mortgages.
Meanwhile, construction firm Carillion raised for
the third time its merger proposal for engineering company
Balfour Beatty, with new terms that value its rival at
2.1 billion pounds ($3.5 billion).
Balfour Beatty rose 3.1 percent, while Carillion shed 0.1
Elsewhere, cigarette firm Imperial Tobacco climbed
2.3 percent. It said it expected to report modest adjusted
earnings growth in the full year after volumes from its top
growth brands rose by 3 percent in the first nine months.
The UK blue-chip FTSE 100 index was up 39.71
points, or 0.59 percent, at 6,780.96 by 1518 GMT, trading at its
highest levels since late July.
Concerns over the crisis in Ukraine have been less of a
focus in the past two days, and equities rose on Monday after
Russia's Foreign Ministry said some progress had been achieved
during talks with Germany, France and Ukraine over the conflict.
While the situation was still tense, with Ukrainian
government forces reporting new advances against pro-Russian
separatists, traders were encouraged by the fact the situation
had not deteriorated significantly.
However, gains in the broader market were capped by sharp
falls in the shares of mining company BHP Billiton,
which held off announcing a highly anticipated buyback. It
reported an 8 percent rise in second-half underlying
attributable profit to $5.69 billion - slightly below forecasts.
Some investors had been hoping for a buyback of up to $8
billion, according to UBS estimates.
A near-5 percent drop in BHP shares contrasted with near 5
percent rise in Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk as
investors welcomed an unexpected buyback from the container
(Additional reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Mark