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Share index back above 5000 after 11 months

London's FTSE 100 Index touched the 5000 mark for the first time in almost a year today as investor confidence showed little sign of waning.

The blue-chip index moved above the benchmark during afternoon trading and held firm to finish 1.2 per cent or 57 points ahead at 5004.3 - the highest close since September 26 last year.

The market initially began the day in the red, but bright economic signs buoyed traders with news of improvements in consumer confidence and the jobs market adding to the general cheer.

British Airways was the Footsie's best performer - up 10p to 211p as it added to gains yesterday on upbeat comments from rival Air France and hopes for growth in air travel next year.

Travel firms enjoyed a strong session across the board as Thomas Cook added 10.8p to 245p, Thomson Holidays owner TUI Travel ticked up 7.2p to 256.7p and cruise ship operator Carnival cheered 71p to 2009p.

Oil and gas explorer BG Group meanwhile added 40p to 1095p after a major find off the coast of Brazil.

But miners dominated the fallers board, following strong increases seen earlier in the week.

Randgold Resources shed 82p to 4272p after gold prices retreated below the 1,000 dollars an ounce barrier, but Lonmin topped the fallers board with a 48p slide to 1664p following a broker downgrade.

Buying interest in London was focused on smaller stocks after a number of upbeat trading statements from the retail sector.

Sports Direct International, which owns the Sports World chain, rose 11 per cent or 13.4p to 130.1p after it raised its annual earnings forecast and said sales continued to be ahead of last year.

Thorntons also did well, up 17 per cent or 15.5p to 108p as the chocolate retailer reported a less-than-feared 25.8 per cent fall in annual underlying pre-tax profits to £6.3 million and a pick up in sales over the second half.

And Laura Ashley shares were 10 per cent higher, or 1.75p to 18.75p, after its chairman reported a strong start to the second half of its financial year.

Meanwhile, debt-laden directories firm Yell continued its recovery from record lows seen earlier this year. Shares plunged to 11.75p in the summer, but now stand at 78.2p amid hopes the company can secure a long-term funding agreement with its banks. Today's gain added 13.2p or 20 per cent.

Leisure group Whitbread failed to rally on the back of news it is expected to regain its blue chip status in the next reshuffle of the FTSE 100 Index.

An 18 per cent surge in its share price on Monday was decisive in securing a top flight berth, as the FTSE calculates membership based on last night's closing prices. The reshuffle takes place in a few days time, but in the meantime Whitbread shares were 26p lower at 1232p.

The biggest Footsie risers were British Airways up 10p at 211p, Thomas Cook ahead 10.8p to 245p, Cairn Energy up 105p at 2620p and British Land up 19p at 507.5p.

The biggest Footsie fallers were Lonmin down 48p at 1664p, Pearson down 16p at 735.5p, Experian off 10.5p at 495.5p and Randgold Resources down 82p at 4272p.