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UPDATE 1-AstraZeneca, Smurfit Kappa pull FTSE 100 higher; Darktrace soars on debut

(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* AstraZeneca rises on earnings beat, higher sales expectation

* Smurfit Kappa tops FTSE 100 on higher Q1 revenue

* Barclays slips despite Q1 profit of 2.4 billion pounds

* FTSE 100 up 0.2%, FTSE 250 adds 0.2% (Adds comment, details; updates prices)

April 30 (Reuters) - London’s FTSE 100 edged higher on Friday, boosted by earnings updates from AstraZeneca and Smurfit Kappa, while optimism around a speedy recovery from pandemic-led crash set the blue-chip index for its biggest monthly gain since November 2020.

The FTSE 100 index rose 0.2%, with AstraZeneca gaining 3.7% after it forecast higher sales in the second half of the year.

UK-listed shares of Europe’s largest paper packaging producer Smurfit Kappa Group jumped 3.8% after it posted a 6% increase in first-quarter revenue on strong packaging demand.

The index was further supported by tobacco makers British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands which rose more than 2% each after their peer Swedish Match reported upbeat quarterly profit.

The domestically focused midcap FTSE 250 index advanced 0.2%.

After the U.S. Federal Reserve maintained a status quo on its monetary policy on Wednesday, investors’ focus has now turned towards Bank of England’s meeting on May 6 where it will likely ease its foot off the stimulus pedal and slow bond purchases as Britain’s economy rebounds.

In February, the BoE forecast the economy would grow 5% this year after slumping by almost 10% in 2020.

“The combination of a shallower Q1 contraction, faster exit from lockdown, a more supportive near-term fiscal policy, and a better external backdrop should see the Bank push up its 2021 projections closer to 7% from 5%,” wrote Deutsche Bank economist Sanjay Raja in a note.

“An inevitable growth upgrade would give the monetary policy committee (MPC) enough ammunition to start QE taper.”

Both the UK indexes are on track for their biggest and third consecutive monthly gains so far this year as earnings recovered and businesses reopened on the back of speedy vaccine rollouts and supportive government policies.

Among other stocks, cybersecurity company Darktrace soared 30.9% in its trading debut.

However, Barclays slipped 5.7% to the bottom of the FTSE 100 index even as its first quarter profits more than doubled. (Reporting by Devik Jain in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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