Bearish trading statements add to the anxiety

MARKET REPORT
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Cautious trading statements helped undermine an already wary stock market. Sudden anxiety about tomorrow's US payroll figures, which have a reputation for wrong-footing New York, and the outcome of today's elections was already weighing heavily on sentiment when the bearish trading comments became known.

General Accident was the heavyweight casualty. It told shareholders trading was running at "a significantly lower level" than a year ago. The shares fell 18p before rallying to end 7p down at 625p.

Courtaulds Textiles was cut 45p to 373p after a profit warning, which prompted NatWest Securities to cut pounds 9m from its forecast. It now expects pounds 38m; last year CT made pounds 36.5m, down from pounds 47.3m.

Eurodis Electron, the electrical distributor, also contributed to the gloom. It produced a less than encouraging trading statement as Elektrowatt, the Swiss group, acknowledged it had been unable to find a buyer for its shareholding and had decided to place 40.32 per cent through UBS. Eurodis slumped 49p to 233p.

The market was confused by Elektrowatt's comment that the placing "is conditional on our price expectations being met". UBS had not printed details of the placing, presumably uncompleted, when the market closed.

The shares have experienced a roller-coaster ride since Elektrowatt, in an abrupt policy switch, decided to pay pounds 1bn for Landis & Gyr, an electronics group, and sell peripheral interests to help meet the cost.

It managed to unload a near 30 per cent interest in Unitech to Siebe, the engineer, which went on mount a pounds 520m bid.

But although it has been in talks with potential bidders Elektrowatt, controlled by Credit Suisse, has finally had to resort to a placing. The market had talked of the Swiss sale prompting a 360p-a-share offer and the shares touched 312p earlier this year.

BICC, the cable and construction group, also scattered a little uncertainty around. It has held analysts' meetings and Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull put a sell sign over the shares, although ABN Amro Hoare Govett is more positive. The price fell 5p to 342p.

The failure of any of the long-mooted takeover bids to appear also took its toll, with National Power, Ladbroke and Thorn EMI pulled lower.

The FT-SE 100 index ended 11.9 points down at 3,806.0 and the supporting index, for long so buoyant, fell a further 11.7 to 4,540.1.

National Westminster Bank gained 7.5p to 619.5p as hopes revived of a share buy-back or special dividend. Rentokil was up 5.5p to 388p on further US buying following its BET success.

SmithKline Beecham continued to advance, up 13p to 717.5p. The shares have climbed 60p since last month's marginally better than expected figures. There is talk that it is gearing up for a big takeover exercise, with a US group likely to be the target. It is thought to have met analysts this week and is expected to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for a heart treatment.

Glaxo Wellcome, up 12p to 818p, was again helped by FDA clearance of a new anaesthetic, and Smith & Nephew drew further strength from its skin-growing alliance, up 1.75p to 195p.

Lloyds Chemists fell 4p to 465p as Marilyn Lloyd, wife of chairman Allen Lloyd, sold 3 million shares at 450p.

Lucas Industries fell back further after its recent run, losing 2p to 213p. Some are wondering whether the group, seeking a chief executive to replace George Simpson, will contemplate a merger with T&N.

The day's best performer was Liverpool-based stockbroker Neilson Cobbold, which duly confirmed a takeover approach - from Rathbone Brothers, the financial group. Neilson surged 95p to 365p.

MMT Computing, with a 71 per cent interim profit advance, jumped 86p to 458p, and Celtic Football Club, a notoriously thin market, gained 3,000p to 17,500p.

Chelsea Village fell 3p to 55p on the likelihood that Chelsea manager Glenn Hoddle will take the England hot seat, and Central Motor, a car auction business, put on 15p to 85p following an 87p-a-share bid from a company owned by Independent Car Auctions of Bristol and Manheim Auctions of the US.

Innovations fell 3p to 189p, after touching 206p. The catalogue retailer may be taken private.

Flomerics, a specialist software group, held at 215p. Managed Technology Investors, a venture capital house, sold most of its 40.3 per cent stake to institutions at 200p.

TAKING STOCK

r MSB International, a computer group, looks set for a heady debut today. The shares were placed at 190p but could top 220p when trading gets under way. The group, operating mainly in the South-east, has increased profits more than sixfold in the past two years.

r Cambridge Mineral Resources, seeking diamonds and sapphires in Ireland, Scandinavia and Spain, is expected to arrive on Ofex, the fringe share market, in July. The company has raised pounds 250,000 through a private share placing.

r TBI, a property development and investment group, gained 3p to 72.5p in, for the second day running, busy trading. It has sold a leisure complex at Stevenage for what appears to be an attractive price. Buyer is Norwich Union.

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