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Europe: FTSE hits six-week high on strong energy stocks

[LONDON] Britain's top share index hit a six-week high on Wednesday, helped by gains for energy stocks following a rise in oil.

Education and media group Pearson lead the market higher after saying it expected to return to growth in 2015.

The benchmark FTSE 100 index rose for a fifth straight session and was up 0.9 per cent at 6,677.81 points by 1517 GMT after hitting an intra-day peak of 6,699.59, the highest since early December.

The UK Oil and Gas index, up 2.1 per cent, led the sectoral gainers, tracking a rise of 2.7 per cent in crude oil prices. BP, BG Group and Royal Dutch Shell rose between 1.1 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

"We are witnessing a relief rally as stronger oil prices have prompted some people to build positions in energy stocks. Investors are also positioning ahead of tomorrow's likely announcement of a bond-buying programme by the European Central Bank," said Mike Jarman, chief strategist at H2O Markets.

Among the day's sharpest movers, Pearson was the top FTSE 100 gainer, adding 4.4 per cent, after the group said it expected adjusted earnings per share of between 75 and 80 pence in 2015, up from the 66 pence it expects for last year.

"The desire for education materials has driven them on, continuing a pretty impressive performance they've had over the last 12 months," said Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG.

British telecom firm BT Group rose 1.2 per cent, outperforming the broader market. Traders cited a report in German Manager Magazine saying that Deutsche Telekom and BT were discussing partnerships between their enterprise businesses and in procurement.

Among big fallers, Sports Direct slipped 6.8 per cent after founder Mike Ashley cut his stake in the retailer to 55 per cent. Engineer Weir Group fell 1.4 per cent after JP Morgan cut its stance on the stock to "underweight" from "neutral".

Mid-cap oil producer Afren slumped 18.8 per cent after saying it was reviewing its capital expenditure budget and talking with lenders to amend credit facilities.