LONDON -- It looks like the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES:^FTSE) was unharmed by today's Bank of England decision not to extend its quantitative-easing program, as the index finished the day a few points up. But Western markets have generally been buoyed today by rises in Asia owing to better-than-expected news about the Chinese economy.

When the FTSE 100 is reaching new heights, some of its constituents inevitably will, as well. Here are three financial giants setting new records.

Barclays (LSE:BARC)
The banking sector is certainly getting back to strength. Barclays shares hit a new high of 298 pence today, taking the price up more than 50% in the past 12 months. Barclays came though the banking crisis relatively well, managing to maintain reasonable profits throughout, although at one point the shares fell as low as 50 pence!

Expectations for 2012 suggest a decent rise in earnings and put the shares on a price-to-earnings ratio of only about 8.5, with future forecasts dropping that further. So is there still value in the shares even after their strong rally? There may well be.

The rising tide lifted HSBC, too, as shares of the second-largest company in the FTSE 100 rose to a 52-week high of 674 pence, taking them up more than 30% over the past year. HSBC's profits did fall further than Barclays', but the recovery started sooner, and the price did not hit quite the same bargain level.

As HSBC has largely recovered, there is less growth forecast for the next couple of years, but the bank is paying decent dividends, unlike most of its peers. There's a 4% yield expected for the 2012 full year, with forecasts rising to 5% by 2014.

Standard Life (LSE:SL)
To bring in a clean sweep for the financial sector today, we look at Standard Life, whose shares have been hovering just short of their 354 pence peak all week. The shares have stormed up 70% over the past 12 months as the insurer published a number of upbeat trading updates during the year, followed by strong interim figures in October.

Forecasts put the shares on a P/E of about 15, so there's no obvious screaming bargain there by that measure, but dividends are strong, with an expected yield of over 4% and rising.

Daily gains from shares can all play their part in making you your first million. But the real secret to becoming rich from shares is simple long-term investing in fundamentally sound companies and letting steady growth and dividends power your wealth upward. If you don't think making a million is feasible, read The Motley Fool's report "10 Steps To Making A Million In The Market" and see if you change your mind. The report won't cost you a penny, so click here to have a copy delivered to your inbox while it's still available.


Alan does not own any shares mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.