March 1, 2017 / 11:14 AM / 6 months ago

Banks, miners lift Britain's FTSE to 6-week high

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* FTSE 100 index up 0.9 pct

* Banks and miners among top gainers

* CRH up on infrastructure hopes, Fresnillo falls

By Atul Prakash

LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - Britain's top share index hit a six-week high on Wednesday, with commodities-related stocks tracking stronger metals, while banks gained on expectations of further hikes in U.S. interest rates.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index was up 0.9 percent by 1045 GMT, after climbing to its highest level since the middle of January. The benchmark index has surged more than 25 percent since a post-Brexit sell-off in June last year.

Banks were among the standout gainers following signs from two influential Federal Reserve policymakers that U.S. interest rates could rise this month, fuelling hopes of an improvement in their margins.

New York Fed President William Dudley, a permanent voter on the U.S. central bank's open market committee and close ally of chair Janet Yellen, said that the case for tightening monetary policy "has become a lot more compelling".

"In fact, prospects of significant fiscal spending could push more Fed members to the hawkish camp," said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, analyst at London Capital Group, adding that traders were in hurry to readjust Fed expectations.

The UK banking index rose 1.6 percent as Standard Chartered, HSBC and Barclays gained 1.5 to 2.3 percent.

Miners helped the widely-followed British index as copper climbed to its highest level in nearly a week on concerns about a shortage of supply and an upturn in manufacturing growth in top metals user China. Prices of other major metals such as aluminium, nickel and zinc were also higher.

The sector reacted positive after an official survey showed that activity in China's manufacturing sector expanded faster than expected in February.

The UK mining index rose nearly 2 percent, the biggest sectoral gainer, supported by a 1.4 and 3.1 percent rally in shares of BHP Billiton, Glencore, Anglo American and Rio Tinto.

The UK oil and gas index rose 1.8 percent on firmer crude oil prices.

Elsewhere, strong earnings growth and cash generation last year drove shares in building materials group CRH as it awaited a further, medium-term boost to infrastructure under U.S. President Donald Trump. CRH was last up 4.5 percent, the top gainer in the FTSE 100 index.

Gold miners, however lost out following a rise in the dollar on the U.S. rate hike expectations. A firmer dollar tends to make gold costlier for holders of other currencies and shares in Fresnillo <FRES.L. and Randgold Resources fell 1.9 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

The broader market showed little reaction to data showing Britain's factory sector grew more slowly than expected in February but still looked set to help the economy keep up its strong, post-Brexit vote momentum in early 2017. (Editing by Alexander Smith)

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