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UPDATE 2-UK shares end higher on earnings optimism; AstraZeneca gains

 (For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock
markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)
    * Just Group jumps on strong earnings
    * Unite Group rises on upbeat outlook
    * UBS bullish on FTSE 100 in 2021
    * Midcaps end near 13-month high
    * FTSE 100 up 0.8%, FTSE 250 adds 1.1%

 (Updates to close)
    By Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S
    March 16 (Reuters) - London's FTSE 100 rose on Tuesday
following a clutch of upbeat company earnings, while AstraZeneca
rose after the European medicine watchdog said it saw little
reason to change its stance on the drugmaker's COVID-19 vaccine.
    The blue-chip FTSE 100 index         ended 0.8% higher at
its best close since early January, with financials, healthcare
and consumer staples stocks among the best performers.
    AstraZeneca         was the top boost to the index after the
European Medicines Agency (EMA) head, Emer Cooke, said she saw
no reason to change its recommendation of the vaccine. The EMA
is still investigating concerns over the shot's safety and will
release its findings on Thursday.                          
    "The market is starting to appreciate that higher yields are
not necessarily a bad thing for stocks, as long as they reflect
higher growth and inflation expectations," said Andrea Cicione,
head of strategy at TS Lombard.
    "Over the last few sessions, investors are gaining a bit
more confidence and are getting comfortable with growth again." 
 
    A recent rise in treasury yields had hampered an otherwise
strong start to the year for UK stocks, as investors feared a
bigger-than-expected spike in inflation as economies began to
reopen.
    Meanwhile, brokerage UBS in a note said it remained bullish
on UK equities and raised its FTSE 100 year-end target from
7,200 to 7,600, a 17.6% premium to its 2020 close. 
    The energy sector was the top laggard for the day, as lower
oil prices resulted in losses in oil heavyweights BP Plc       
and Royal Dutch Shell Plc         .       
    The domestically focused FTSE 250 index         rose 1.1% to
a near 13-month high, almost completely recovering its losses
from the coronavirus crisis. 
    Specialist pension provider Just Group Plc           rose
5.2% after it reported an 11% rise in annual earnings and
flagged progress in shoring up its capital base.             
    Student housing provider Unite         gained 2.2%, after it
forecast a return to full occupancy and rental growth for the
upcoming academic year and reinstated dividend for the
pandemic-hit 2020.             

 (Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S in Bengaluru;
Editing by Arun Koyyur and Lisa Shumaker)
  
 
 
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