By Clare Hutchison
LONDON (Reuters) - Signs of economic recovery have renewed confidence among retail investors who have begun trading more, British financial spread betting firm IG Group
IG Chief Executive Tim Howkins said market conditions in the six months to November 30 were much like the same period in 2012, but this time around clients were much more active.
"That reflects the fact that consumer sentiment is picking up. The world is slowly emerging from recession, people are feeling a bit wealthier, a bit happier and therefore, more likely to trade," Howkins told Reuters.
"(Confidence) is coming back slowly and steadily. It's certainly in a better place than it was 18 months ago."
IG, which allows investors to speculate on the future price of securities or baskets of securities, said first-half revenue was 182.7 million pounds ($299.3 million), compared with 169 million pounds the prior year.
Shares in the company were up 1.4 percent at 635 pence at 1000 GMT, compared with a 0.7 percent drop in the FTSE 250 <.FTMC> midcap index.
IG said its efforts to focus attention on more active clients who produce a greater share of revenue, such as raising minimum deposits and creating a more personalised service for its most valuable users, had also started to bear fruit.
Revenue per client, a key measure of performance, was up 13 percent in the first half and Howkins said the number of low activity clients had fallen dramatically.
Higher revenue sent profit before tax up 17 percent to 95.1 million pounds, versus 81.1 million a year earlier, IG said.
Europe performed particularly strongly, producing a 25 percent rise in revenue in the first half.
Howkins said financial transaction taxes (FTTs) introduced in France and Italy had had minimal impact on IG's business so far.
He said IG continued to monitor discussions on a European FTT, which were progressing "slowly and somewhat opaquely", and recommended that a simple tax, with a narrow scope and an exchange-based collection mechanism, similar to the French tax, would be easier for the participant countries to agree on.
IG, which operates in 16 countries and has made geographical expansion a key element of its long-term strategy, said new markets would be the main driver of growth over the next 12 months.
The company said plans to open a Swiss office were now in an advanced stage and there were ongoing detailed discussions with the regulator in another unidentified jurisdiction.
IG also expects future growth to come from its diversification into cash equities. It is currently testing a stock broking service and said it was on track to launch it in Britain in the second half of the 2014 calendar year.
Citi analyst Hugo Mills said in a note to clients that traction in these new initiatives, as well as increased market volatility, could drive upside potential for IG's share price.
IG proposed a dividend of 5.75 pence per share, flat on the same period a year earlier.
(Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Mark Potter)