U.K. Stocks Rise Most in Four Weeks as Vodafone Jumps

U.K. stocks climbed the most in four weeks as a business lobby group forecast the economy may avoid another recession and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) shares surged amid takeover speculation.

Vodafone, the second-biggest stock in the FTSE 100 (UKX), rallied to a five-year high as the Financial Times’s Alphaville blog said AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. may jointly bid for the mobile-phone company. FirstGroup Plc (FGP) jumped the most in 10 months after Bank of America Corp. upgraded the the U.K.’s largest rail operator.

The FTSE 100 gained 72.82 points, or 1.1 percent, to 6,484.56 at 1:08 p.m. in London, the largest advance since March 5. The equity benchmark gained 8.7 percent in the first quarter, the most since September 2010, as U.S. lawmakers agreed on a compromise budget and reports on jobs and housing fueled optimism that the world’s biggest economy is recovering. The FTSE All-Share Index rose 1 percent today, while Ireland’s ISEQ Index added 0.9 percent.

“Investors are coming into this month with upbeat expectations rather than downbeat ones,” said Gerard Lane, a strategist at Shore Capital Group Ltd. in Liverpool, England. “The FTSE’s performance this year has been pretty good. U.S. markets are performing very strongly, and the U.K. survey data came in better than expected.”

The British Chambers of Commerce said its gauges of domestic and foreign demand at manufacturers and services companies rose last quarter, with export measures near records.

“Fears of another recession are calmed by our results,” BCC Chief Economist David Kern said. “The economy’s performance is weak by long-term historical standards. However, while remaining below trend for some time, growth is likely to stay in positive territory.”

Manufacturing Data

Still, a release today showed U.K. manufacturing contracted more than forecast last month. A gauge of activity rose to 48.3 in March from 47.9 in February, Markit Economics and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply said. Economists in a Bloomberg survey had forecast an increase to 48.7. A reading above 50 signals expansion.

Cyprus’s government wants more time to reach targets set as conditions for its 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) bailout, before euro-area finance ministers meet later this week. Officials will ask for an additional year to return to a primary budget surplus, according to a spokesman. The EU and the IMF have already pushed back the deadline to 2017 from 2016.

“Final outstanding issues in talks with the troika primarily relate to the wider financial sector and fiscal policy and adjustment,” Christos Stylianides, the government’s spokesman, said in Nicosia yesterday.

Vodafone Jumps

Vodafone rallied 4.7 percent to 195.45 pence, the highest price since November 2007, as Alphaville reported that AT&T (T) and Verizon are working on a joint offer for the U.K. company. The blog cited unidentified people.

Vodafone spokesman Matt Morgan declined to comment on the FT Alphaville report. Verizon Wireless spokesman Torod Neptune didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment before regular business hours. An AT&T spokesman in London declined to comment.

FirstGroup jumped 6.9 percent to 214.9 pence, the biggest gain since May 23. Bank of America upgraded the shares to buy from underperform, saying that contract extensions and divestments may give the shares a 20 percent boost.

BowLeven Plc (BLVN) added 1.8 percent to 97.5 pence as the energy explorer said preliminary results from a well offshore Cameroon confirmed the presence of condensate-rich gas.

Oil Companies

A gauge of oil and gas companies listed on the FTSE 350 Index climbed 1.3 percent. BG Group Plc (BG/) increased 2.4 percent to 1,156 pence and Salamander Energy Plc (SMDR) added 1.7 percent to 211.3 pence.

ICAP Plc (IAP), the world’s largest broker of transactions between banks, jumped 6.2 percent to 308.5 pence, the biggest gain since Feb. 6. Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. agreed yesterday to buy eSpeed, the electronic trading system for U.S. Treasuries, from BGC Partners Inc. for about $750 million in cash.

Evraz Plc (EVR) slipped 0.9 percent to 220 pence after saying it will buy 51 percent of OJSC Timir, an iron-ore project in the southern part of Yakutia in Russia, for about $160 million.

To contact the reporter on this story: Namitha Jagadeesh in London at njagadeesh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Rummer at arummer@bloomberg.net

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