LONDON -- The FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE ) hit yet another 52-week high yesterday of 6,355 points, though it did fall back in later trading to end 16 points down on the day at 6,323. Still, it does mark the index's second day of closing above 6,300 points, its fifth consecutive day above 6,200, its 15th day over 6,100, and the 22nd day in a row it has closed over the 6,000 mark.
A number of companies that were struggling last year seem to have had a better Christmas trading period this year, and general economic sentiment is pretty buoyant at the moment. Long may it last. Meanwhile, some of our biggest companies have been reaching new heights this week. We take a look at three of them.
Barclays (LSE: BARC )
The recovery of the U.K.'s banks continues, with Barclays having hit a new 52-week high of 307 pence on Monday, dropping a penny to end the day on a closing high of 306 pence. Since Barclays' 52-week low point of 148 pence set back in July last year, the price has more than doubled. And it's actually up sixfold since its sub-50-pence low during the depths of the panic in January 2009.
Barclays always maintained a profit during the recession, though the dividend did have to be slashed. But expectations for the year to December 2012 indicate a healthy rise in earnings, putting the shares on a price-to-earnings ratio of less than nine. And the dividend is making a recovery, too, with a yield of about 2.2% in the cards.
BT (LSE: BT-A ) (NYSE: BT )
Another top-tier company hitting new highs this week is BT Group, whose shares broke their 52-week record on Monday to hit 254 pence, taking them up around 20% over the past 12 months. This week's rise comes ahead of third-quarter results from the FTSE 100 telecom giant, due on Friday.
BT has been generally growing its profits over the past few years, and for the year ending March 2013, City analysts are expecting a rise in earnings per share of about 35%, putting the shares on a forward P/E of about 10. And there's a healthy rise in the full-year dividend forecast as well, taking the yield to around 3.8%.
Inchcape (LSE: INCH )
For our third highflier, we turn to the upper reaches of the FTSE 250 and automotive retailer Inchcape, whose shares hit a new intraday 52-week high on Tuesday of 478 pence and a new closing high of 472 pence yesterday. The share price is now up more than 50% since its 52-week low of 304 pence set last summer.
The motor trade is starting to look up, and after a few tough years, Inchcape has modest rises in EPS expected for the year to December 2012 and the following two years. There is also a recovery in dividend payouts in the cards, with a 2.6% yield suggested for 2012. Full-year results for 2012 should be announced on March 12.
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