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Europe: UK's FTSE touches record high but lags global equity rally

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[LONDON] A rise in oil majors helped pushed the UK's top share index to an all-time high on Thursday but below the level enjoyed by its European peers, as retailers hurt after a Debenhams profit warning and house prices weighed on the real estate sector.

Britain's FTSE 100 index closed up 0.3 per cent at 7,696.50 after hitting a record of 7702.11 points after surveys showed Britain's dominant services sector rebounded strongly last month.

The data pushed sterling slightly higher, keeping pressure on earners of dollars.

A rally in cyclical sectors such as financials and energy added about 22 points to the index, with BP and Shell rising 1.1 per cent and one percent respectively.

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The UK's oil and gas index was up one percent at its highest level since May 2008.

The British oil majors mirrored a move higher in oil prices, which were spurred to their highest since mid-2015 on the back of tensions in producer Iran.

A supportive research note from Barclays also helped the energy sector, in which analysts said they expected European integrated oil and refining companies to be cash flow positive after dividends in the fourth quarter, thanks to a higher oil price.

Likewise positive metals prices also drove shares in British miners. Shares in Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Billiton rose between 0.3 per cent to 1.4 per cent.

The mood was less positive among retail stocks, however, as shares in small cap Debenhams closed down 17.7 per cent after a profit warning following a difficult Christmas trading period.

This contrasted with Next's upbeat update on Christmas sales on Wednesday.

Shares in Debenhams posted their biggest one-day loss since March 2008, while blue chip Marks & Spencer was also down 3.6 per cent at the bottom of the FTSE.

"Ongoing structural challenges, a soft consumer environment, rising costs and increasing capex demands make for a difficult outlook (for Debenhams)," analysts at Liberum said in a note.

The real estate sector also suffered after data showed British house prices grew last year at their slowest since 2012 and fell in London for the first time in a full year since 2009.

British Land Company fell 3 per cent and Hammerson 2.5 per cent.

REUTERS