3 Shares Set to Beat the FTSE 100 Today

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LONDON -- The FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) is down 0.84% to 6,379 points as of 9:20 a.m. EDT as uncertainty over the shape of the Cyprus bailout weighs heavily on the eurozone. Today is the fifth day in a row that the index of top U.K. stocks has fallen, and if it closes today at current levels, that will be the end of its recent run above the 6,400 mark.

But there are individual constituents of the various FTSE indexes that are doing better. Here are three on the rise today.

NEXT shares have shot up 2.3% to 4,242 pence after the high-street clothing retailer reported higher earnings per share for January 2013 and lifted its dividend for the fourth consecutive year. Total sales grew by 3.1%, with the bulk of that coming from a 9.5% rise in NEXT Directory sales -- and that fed through to an 11% rise in underlying pre-tax profit to 471 million pounds.

Earnings and dividends are both up by 17%, with underlying EPS rising to 298 pence and the full-year dividend lifted to 105 pence per share from 90 pence last year. Chairman John Barton said of the coming year: "We anticipate another challenging year ahead, with little if any growth in the U.K. retail economy. In these circumstances we again aim to achieve growth by investing in the Brand, improving our products, controlling costs and returning cash to our shareholders."

AstraZeneca shares have gone nowhere over the past three years, partly due to fears for the future of the "blockbuster drug" model of the pharmaceutical industry. But an update today on the company's plans to "return to growth and achieve scientific leadership" sent the price up 2.5% to 3,115 pence.

The strategy includes measures to speed up Phase 2 pipeline progress, focus on the firm's biologics portfolio, enhance the development of speciality care products, and boost acquisitions. The company has also announced the loss of 2,300 sales and administration jobs just a few days after cutting 1,600 posts in research and development.

United Utilities
A trading update from United Utilities Group gave its shares a 1.5% boost to 706 pence. The firm confirmed current expectations for the year ending March 31 and told us it is on track to meet its 2010-2015 regulatory outperformance targets. Underlying operating profit should come in slightly ahead of last year, and net debt is expected to be slightly higher than at the end of September.

Forecasts currently put the shares on a forward P/E of a little more than 17, which is above the FTSE average of about 14. But a dividend yield of close to 5% is expected, and it should be one of the safest on the market.

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