Blue chips edge ahead in a wait-and-see session

MARKET REPORT
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Blue chips managed - just - to hit an election day peak. Footsie, after dillying and dallying, closed 9 points higher at 4,445, a modest 0.7 above the high achieved a few days before John Major's call to the polls.

It was, however, a wait-and-see session. And although the stock market will obviously react to the election results today it is felt the real action may not occur for some weeks.

A utility selling its stake in another utility attracted attention. PowerGen, through UBS, offloaded nearly 16.5 million shares in National Grid at 220p, raising pounds 36m.

Grid shares firmed to 224.5p with PG up 6.5p to 653.5p.

Most other utilities were firm, ignoring the expected change in the regulatory climate and the signalled windfall tax.

Financials were back in demand with the Legal & General insurance group leading the way. It rose 18p to 432p, largely on the back of the theory that Halifax will hunt for a quarry when it comes to market next month. An insurance add-on would make sense for a building society-cum-bank which no doubt wants to add to its already considerable financial muscle.

There was also evidence the institutional weighting problem was still occupying fund managers' minds. Besides the arrival of Halifax they have to contend with other building society conversions as well as the demutualisation of Norwich Union.

Reuters, down from 806p in the autumn to 576.5p last month, enjoyed a 25p gain to 659.5p. The price has risen 54.5p in two days; the market is impressed by a New York presentation for the information group's 3,000 share trading system. A number of analysts, hitherto negative on the shares, believe they are now a buy.

Cookson, the industrial group, fell 5p to 211.5p, just above its year's low. Shareholders meet today and there are fears they will be presented with a gloomy trading statement. Glynwed International, the engineer, was another off colour, down 7p to 254p, although its shareholders' gathering next week is expected to be a bullish affair.

An upbeat trading statement lifted Wickes 12.5p to 178.5p but Bernard Matthews fell 12.5p to 127p after warning that last year's BSE-inspired turkey sales would not be repeated.

The prospect of a bid battle for APV, the engineer which fell on hard times, lifted the shares 5p to 92p. On Tuesday it said it had received an approach; yesterday came an announcement that another possible suitor had appeared.

Disappointing first-quarter figures lowered Shell 8p to 1,082p and Cairn Energy's link with Shell continued to weaken enthusiasm with the shares falling a further 8p to 548.5p. The interim profits setback hit Utility Cable 5.5p to 12.25p

Spirit shares were sobered by weaker drink profits from Seagram, the Canadian giant. Allied Domecq, Grand Metropolitan and Guinness gave ground.

Dragon Oil fell 1p to 3p on profit taking and Alliance Resources, the once-troubled group, returned to market at 60p, down from the equivalent of 80p. Now run by US oilman Jak Keenan Alliance, with Arab cash behind it, is thought to have some intriguing deals in the pipeline.

Tadpole Technology, the hard-pressed computer group, also staged a market comeback following a rescue package. The shares ended at 15p, down from 23.5p.

Stentor, the Irish telephone company, gained a further 10p to 167.5p after a deal with a US group to provide a US/UK service.

Arion, the property company run by Jim Slater's son Christopher, jumped 12.5p to 25.5p. It has surged 17.5p since disclosing it was in reverse takeover talks. Ex-Lands, also in acquisition discussions, firmed to 21p.

Petra Diamonds had another sparkling session. Floated at the equivalent of 30p the shares hit 53.5p with an 11p gain. The warrants performed even more dazzlingly. Handed out as a bonus, on a ration of one warrant for every five shares, they gained 10p to 27.5p.

Celltech, the drugs group, climbed 25p to 590p as German giant Bayer said it planned to market a Celltech treatment for septic shock. Favourable circulars are also drifting around. Henry Cooke Lumsden said the shares could hit 1,000 by the year end.

Burndene, the caravans to tights group, held at 36p. With some of the conversion windfalls likely to be spent on caravans there is a view the shares could be oversold. One stockbroker is looking for profits of pounds 7.5m this year, up from just over pounds 6m.

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