Banks, homebuilders shine as British shares rally on budget boost

FILE PHOTO: The London Stock Exchange Group offices are seen in the City of London, Britain, December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

(Reuters) - British shares rose on Wednesday, buoyed by gains in financial, leisure and homebuilding stocks as investors cheered finance minister Rishi Sunak’s budget plan to steer the economy out of a coronavirus-inflicted shock.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index closed 0.9% higher, with shares of top three British homebuilders Barratt Developments, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey gaining between 6% and 7%.

The wider housebuilder index added 2.8%, while banking stocks were among the top boosters.

Delivering an annual budget speech on Wednesday, Sunak extended costly emergency programmes, including a five-month extension of Britain’s huge jobs rescue plan and more help for the self-employed, but also announced a future tax squeeze as he began to focus on the huge hole in the public finances.

“Sunak’s budget signalled the UK economy is almost ready to leave crisis mode,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

“The UK will have a great 2022, but the economy will return to trend in 2023. The withdrawal of stimulus and higher taxes will complicate the outlook after next year.”

The FTSE 100 has recovered more than 35% from a coronavirus-induced crash last year, helped by a raft of stimulus measures and faster vaccine rollouts. But investors are cautious about a rise in inflation and policy tightening as lockdowns start to ease.

The domestically focused mid-cap FTSE 250 index ended 1.2% higher, led by a 13.6% jump in Micro Focus International’s shares after the IT firm said it joined hands with Inc’s cloud computing division to help customers migrate their mainframe applications and workloads to the platform.

Travel and leisure stocks also supported the index, with pub operators Marston’s Plc, Mitchells & Butlers and J D Wetherspoon gaining between 3.1% and 6% after the UK extended a value-added tax (VAT) cut for cafes, restaurants and hotels by six months until Sept. 30.

Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Jonathan Oatis