By Preeti Upadhyaya, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) -- An unexpected drop in U.K. unemployment boosted the stock market Wednesday, while U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's statements suggested the central bank was prepared for more stimulus measures if needed.
The FTSE 100 index closed 1% higher at 5,685.77.
London's main equities benchmark got a lift from the U.K. jobless rate, which dropped to 8.1% for the three-month period ended in May, down from 8.3% in the previous period and better than the 8.2% consensus that analysts polled by Factset Research had forecast.
Minutes from The Bank of England's decision earlier this month showed a 7-2 vote in favor of boosting asset purchases by 50 billion pounds ($78.2 billion) in what is known as the Funding for Lending Scheme, designed to boost economic activity and the credit supply.
The Monetary Policy Committee voted unanimously to keep the bank's key interest rate unchanged at 0.5%, but it's "keeping the door open" to an autumn rate cut, according to a note from analysts at Danske Bank.
"Despite voting unanimously to keep the base rate unchanged at 0.5%, it seems that a 25 basis point rate cut could be on the cards if the current round of asset purchases does not have the desired effect on the economy," the note said.
"We have long been skeptical about the effectiveness of additional [quantitative easing] in its traditional form and have argued for the use of other measures."
Central-bank action was also in the spotlight in the U.S., where the Fed's Ben Bernanke wrapped up the second day of his twice-a-year monetary- policy testimony before Congress. The chairman maintained that the central bank stands ready to act and inject more stimulus if needed, but he did not bring any detailed plans of further quantitative easing to the table.
Precious-metals firm Fresnillo PLC led the FTSE 100 higher, rising 1.6% after reporting record gold production for the fiscal second quarter.
Mining giant BHP Billiton (BHP) fell 2%, despite having reported strong fourth-quarter production results and highlighting a 12th consecutive annual production record from its iron-ore mining operations in Western Australia.
Rio Tinto PLC(RIO) was up 0.5%. Metals prices were down overall.
Also on the move, shares of investment firm Ashmore Group PLC climbed 2.6% after Goldman Sachs upgraded its rating to buy from neutral.
Heavyweight bank HSBC Holdings PLC (HBC) slipped 0.3%, as a top compliance executive said Tuesday he would step down in response to an ongoing U.S. government investigation into money laundering.
G4S PLC rose 2%, rebounding from losses earlier in the week as it grappled with its London Olympics security-contract fiasco.
RSA Insurance Group PLC rose 0.6% even after saying in a statement that record rains in the U.K. could cost the firm around 40 million pounds, or $62.5 million.
United Utilities Group PLC fell 0.3%, while Reed Elsevier PLC dropped 1.6% and Hammerson PLC shed 0.6%.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 18, 2012 12:08 ET (16:08 GMT)
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