The top share index pushed higher early on Tuesday, as investors supported risk-sensitive banks and commodity stocks amid hopes of positive news from the latest U.S. Federal Reserve meeting.

The Fed, whose statement is due at 6.15 p.m., is seen keeping rates on hold, and acknowledging a slightly brighter economic outlook while refraining from any suggestion that further monetary easing is off the table.

Ahead of the Fed decision, investors will eye U.S. February retail sales data, at 12.30 p.m., for signs of continuing recovery in the world's biggest economy.

Banks <.FTNMX8350> were the top performers in London, led by global heavyweight HSBC , up 1.8 percent, as the sector rallied after weakness in the previous session.

Miners <.FTNMX1770> also rallied following falls on Monday, helped by a recovery in copper prices, up 1 percent as players positioned themselves ahead of the Fed meeting.

At 8.57 a.m., the FTSE 100 <.FTSE> index was up 29.32 points, or 0.5 percent, at 5,922.07, having added 0.1 percent on Monday.

Volumes were very thin, however, at just 9 percent of the 90-day daily average, and traders expected them to remain so.

Never mind the Fed. It's the start of the week-long Cheltenham Festival (of horseracing), so many traders will either be heading down there or just focusing on their TV screens come this afternoon, said one London-based trader.


Antofagasta missed out on the mining sector rally, shedding 2.9 percent to top the blue chip fallers' list, as the copper miner said it would pay a special dividend of 24 cents a share, below market expectations, despite a 32 percent rise in profit boosted by metals prices.

Security services firm G4S was also a faller, down 2.4 percent, after its in-line full-year results failed to excite investors.

But on the up after numbers, Standard Life was a big FTSE 100 gainer, up 1.9 percent after the insurer reported a better-than-expected 28 percent increase in its 2011 profit, helped by cost cuts and a strong performance at its Canadian unit.

Peer Prudential
was also in demand, up 1.2 percent, after its 2011 results met forecasts.

Domestic macroeconomic data was broadly positive on Tuesday.

British house prices fell at their slowest pace since July 2010 last month, and surveyors expect prices to stabilise in the coming months as the economic outlook brightens, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said.

We would suggest that the housing market is likely to continue to recover, with consequential benefits for UK consumer spending patterns and reduced bad debt risks for the UK mortgage lenders, said Gerard Lane, equity strategist at Shore Capital.

Meanwhile, British employers plan to expand their workforce at the fastest rate since the third quarter of 2011 after a hiring lull in the first three months of this year, a survey by recruitment firm Manpower showed on Tuesday.

January British trade data will be released at 9.30 a.m., with a global deficit of 7.88 billion pounds forecast, up from 7.11 billion in December, and a non-EU trade gap of 4.25 billion pounds seen, up from 3.75 billion pounds.

(Editing by Mark Potter)