Oliver Q
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U.K. Stocks Gain for Fifth Day, Nearing 14-Year High

Optimism that the U.K.’s economy will continue to strengthen is trumping investor concern about valuations and the possibility of an interest-rate rise, as the FTSE 100 Index (UKX) rose a fifth day and hovered near a 14-year high.

Standard Life Plc (SL/) surged the most in two years after selling its Canadian business to Manulife Financial Corp. for about C$4 billion ($3.7 billion). Henderson Group Plc (HGG) fell 1 percent after Morgan Stanley downgraded the shares. Hargreaves Lansdown Plc fell for a second day.

The FTSE 100 Index gained 4.39 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 6,877.97 at the close, its highest level since May and 0.8 percent below a high reached in December 1999. The gauge has rebounded 4.7 percent since a low on Aug. 8, trading near its highest price-earnings ratio since 2009. The measure, which includes HSBC Holdings Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, posted two successive monthly losses in June and July amid speculation that the Bank of England is getting closer to raising its bank rate.

“This move higher is a sign of investor confidence about the future,” Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy at Standard Life Investments Ltd., said by phone from Edinburgh, referring to the U.K.’s economic prospects. His firm oversees about $317 billion. “The Bank of England is looking very closely at the details of the labor market and at what point should we move away from emergency interest-rate levels. The next step looks to be an interest-rate move probably in the first quarter of next year as long as the U.K. economy continues growing.”

A report on Aug. 29 showed that confidence among British consumers climbed in August, while data released this week showed the nation’s manufacturing and services industries continued to expand. Still, the Bank of England kept its key interest rate at a record low as low inflation and slack in the labor market reinforced a case for continued stimulus.

The broader FTSE All-Share Index added less than 0.1 percent today, while Ireland’s ISEQ Index advanced 1.4 percent. The volume of shares changing hands in FTSE 100-listed companies was 26 percent greater than the 30-day average at this time of the day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The FTSE 100 trades at 14.3 times the projected earnings of its members, after reaching a multiple of 14.4 on July 4, the highest level since December 2009.

Stocks briefly extended their gains after the European Central Bank unexpectedly cut interest rates and announced a program of securitized-debt purchases.