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FTSE ends up, biggest monthly rise since 2003

* FTSE 100 posts biggest monthly rise since April 2003

* Banks gain on brightening economic outlook

* Miners track firmer raw material prices * AstraZeneca fall despite Q1 beats forecasts

LONDON, April 30 (Reuters) - Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE index rose 1.3 percent on Thursday to post its biggest monthly rise since 2003 on hopes of brightening global economic prospects, with financials and miners the leading gainers.

The UK benchmark closed 54.12 points higher at 4,243.71, after trading as high as 4,293.63 during the session. It was the highest closing level in 11 weeks, largely shrugging off the World Health Organization’s move of raising its pandemic alert level to phase 5 on a swine flu outbreak.

The index gained 8.1 percent this month, its biggest monthly rise since April 2003, but it is still down 4.3 percent this year. The FTSE 100 had fallen more than 31 percent in 2008.

Investors were reassured by economic data from the United States and Asian export powerhouses Japan and South Korea, and comments from the U.S. Federal Reserve that the country’s economic contraction was slowing.

The banking sector was the best performer on the FTSE 100, with HSBC HSBA.L, Barclays BARC.L, Royal Bank of Scotland RBS.L, Lloyds Banking Group LLOY.L and Standard Chartered STAN.L gaining between 3.3 and 13.6 percent.

A rating upgrade from RBS also boosted Barclays.

The FTSE 350 banking index .FTNMX8350 has nearly doubled since its trough in March, while Barclays shares rocketed by almost 500 percent since January.

Insurers also rallied as stock market valuations rebounded. Aviva AV.L, Legal & General LGEN.L, Friends Provident FP.L, Prudential PRU.L and Old Mutual OML.L added 5.4 to 13 percent.

Motor insurer Admiral Group ADML.L shed 4.1 percent after Munich Re MUVGn.DE cut its stake in the UK firm to 10.2 percent from 15.1 percent to reduce risk in its equity holdings.

“Everything has been looked up positively at the moment. Disappointing news is just being ignored, good news is being jumped on as an excuse to get involved,” said David Morrison, market strategist at GFT Global Market.

“People who have been shorts are covering, fresh longs are coming into the market as people are scared that they will miss the rally ... But the underlying economic situation hasn’t changed and there is a danger of a big pull-back.”

Britain’s consumer confidence recovered to its highest level in a year in April as gloom over the economic outlook dissipated to levels not seen since the start of the credit crunch, a survey showed.

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week and the Economic Cycle Research Institute said the longest U.S. recession in a half century would probably end before the summer was out, while factory output in Japan and South Korea picked up in March.

MINERS GAIN, ASTRAZENECA FALLS

Miners tracked firmer metal prices. Kazakhmys KAZ.L, Vedanta Resources VED.L, Xstrata XTA.L, Antofagasta ANTO.L, Anglo American AAL.L, BHP Billiton BLT.L and Rio Tinto RIO.L rose between 2.9 and 8.9 percent.

But UK-listed Mexican silver producer Fresnillo FRES.L sank 2.8 percent to top the FTSE 100 fallers. The company said its mines remained open despite the worsening outbreak of swine flu. In Mexico, up to 176 people have been killed.

Gas producer BG Group BG.L put on 1.5 percent after posting forecast-beating first-quarter earnings.

Drugmaker AstraZeneca AZN.L also reported above-forecast quarterly results but its shares fell 2.4 percent. Peer Shire SHP.L lost 1.6 percent, even though its first-quarter revenues met expectations.

Pay-TV operator BSkyB BSY.L surged 4.7 percent after beating third-quarter forecasts with 80,000 net new customers due to strong demand for its high-definition offer. (Editing by Rupert Winchester)

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