* FTSE 100 index rises 0.6 pct, highest close since Feb 24
* Draghi says ECB poised to shore up economy as soon as June
* Barclays gains on bold revival plan
* Morrisons rallies; maintains year's profit forecast
By Tricia Wright
LONDON, May 8 Britain's top shares closed at
their highest in more than two months on Thursday, as Barclays
announced a revival plan and investors welcomed the possibility
of more stimulus steps from the European Central Bank in June.
Barclays was the standout gainer on the FTSE 100
, up 7.9 percent after it said it would cut 19,000 jobs
in the next three years and set up a "bad bank".
"Barclays' significant restructuring to simplify the group
is welcomed by investors ... even if it means the flagship
investment banking division, which has driven things for so
long, needs scaling back," said Mike van Dulken, head of
research at Accendo Markets.
Britain's No. 4 grocer, Morrisons, was the
second-best blue-chip riser. The chain kept its profit forecast
for the year after March's warning, prompting some investors to
close out their hefty negative bets on the stock.
Its shares, which have lost about a quarter of their value
so far this year, rose 4.2 percent. The supermarket is the fifth
most shorted stock on the UK benchmark, with 5.8 percent of its
shares out on loan, according to data from Markit.
The FTSE 100 ended up 42.81 points, or 0.6 percent, at
6,839.25 points, its highest close since February 24.
The ECB, which is trying to counter the risk of excessively
low inflation in the euro zone, kept rates on hold, but
president Mario Draghi said the council "was comfortable" with
the idea of acting next month, after its staff forecasts are
CMC Markets senior market analyst Michael Hewson saw scope
for the UK benchmark to retest 6,875 - the 2013 high - or even
"There is potential for further gains simply because ... if
the inflation data continues to show no signs of improving, the
likelihood is that the market will try and front-run a rate cut
or some form of action in June," Hewson said.
The broader market's advance was capped by sharp falls in
some shares. Sage Group fell 5.3 percent as Chief
Executive Guy Berruyer said he would step down and its results
disappointed some investors.
Equity markets have been buoyed in recent weeks by a burst
of deal-making and bids, offsetting concerns about a lacklustre
corporate earnings season.
With valuations for the UK equities not far above their
long-term average, some analysts are bullish. The FTSE 100 index
trades on a 12-month forward price/earnings ratio of 13.5 times,
against its 10-year average of 11.8 times, Thomson Reuters
Ashish Misra, head of investment policy at Lloyds Bank
Private Banking, reckoned on getting about 10 percent total
return from UK equities over the next year, a figure comprising
continued earnings growth at about 7 percent and a dividend
yield of about 3 percent.
"There aren't too many asset classes that we look at in
global markets which are offering that sort of attractive
double-digit return over a 12-month window," he said. "I'm less
concerned about the shorter-term noise."
(Additional reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Larry King)