Buoyant banks led top shares higher on Thursday, with sentiment in the sector supported by the ECB's latest huge cash injection, as investors awaited U.S. data for further indications about the global recovery.

The benchmark <.FTSE> was up 36.73 points, or 0.6 percent, at 5,908.24 by 12:29 p.m., recapturing the psychologically important 5,900 level.

The index had sunk 1 percent on Wednesday after remarks made by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were seen by some as reducing the likelihood of further new asset purchases in the United States.

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher opening on Wall Street on Thursday ahead of February Institute for Supply Management data at 3 p.m., with economists expecting a reading of 54.5, against 54.1 in January.

A good ISM number will be judged negatively if yesterday is anything to go by, Darren Sinden, trader at Silverwind Securities, said. The markets seem to be more concerned about an end to QE which they see as a negative than they are about a recovery in U.S. economy.

Banks added most points to the index, recovering after weakness in the previous session, in spite of downbeat comment from Berenberg Bank which cut its ratings, target prices and estimates across the sector.

Berenberg said in a note the repressed financial environment was a very poor one for bank profitability, one which enabled governments to cut debt at the expense of risk-free asset holders.

Those bank managements that recognise these issues and adjust strategies will be rewarded by the market. Sadly, none has taken the chance so far. We see negative implications for UK banks. We downgrade our forecasts by 25 percent on average and are now 30 percent below consensus.

Royal Bank of Scotland underperformed its peers, up only 0.6 percent, pressured by a double-downgrade to sell from buy from Berenberg.

Earnings releases were behind a number of share price moves on Thursday. Hedge fund company Man Group , the second-most heavily traded blue-chip stock, was the top riser, up 7 percent after full-year results.

Man reported a drop in fund outflows and a rise in assets, as it revised its dividend policy, with Oriel Securities repeating its add rating on the stock.

Trading volume in Man stood at one and a half times its 90-day average.

WPP was another good gainer, up 4.7 percent, as the advertising group posted a better-than-expected 19 percent rise in 2011 profit and reaffirmed its targets for 2012, prompting BofA Merrill Lynch to raise its estimates and target price.

ITV , Britain's biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster, advanced 2.6 percent as several brokers raised their price targets for the stock following strong results on Wednesday.

Positive earnings newsflow coupled with a string of robust economic data supports the case for further gains on the FTSE 100, some argued, including Robert Parkes, equity strategist at HSBC.

Business cycle indicators like U.S. consumer confidence data and Chicago PMI, released this week, are pointing in the right direction, and we could be through the worst of the earnings downgrade cycle judging by the pace of downgrades, he said.

Further, valuations are looking too low and, with risk appetite at a low ebb, there is plenty of headroom for improvement, he said.

(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)