As the FTSE 100 tumbled nearly 3 per cent and the other indices followed suit, it was ironic that a couple of old-fashioned metal bashers, rather than the much-hyped Internet bunch, posted two of the day's largest rises.
Charter was the best performer in the midcap, soaring 24p to 353p, amid talk that a predator is sniffing around.
The idea of a bid is not without logic. The maker of welding and rail track equipment has been one of the great underachievers over the past few years. Tough markets and investors' dislike for its wide spread of activities led to a chronic underperformance of both the All-Share and the engineering sector.
But if the whispers are to be believed, Charter shareholders, which include the activist fund manager Phillips & Drew, could soon be put out of their misery. Dealers said that Charter would be a perfect catch for a US group such as Ingersoll-Rand or the acquisitive Terex, the recent buyer of Powerscreen.
UK firms were seen as less likely predators but some brave traders mentioned the defence giant GKN, up 1p at 1040p.
The possibility of a management buyout was also mooted.
The sceptics' corner claimed that Charter's spike was all to do with the recent upbeat trading from rival Cookson, up 6.5p to 225.p.
As for TI, the stock jumped 23.75p to 456.5p in high turnover as buyers talked of a forthcoming acquisition.
Since the purchase of a 4.6 per cent stake by leverage buyout specialist KKR, the once-sleepy TI has been transformed into a takeover machine. It recently bought US rival Walbro and is now believed to have turned its sights on another prey.
Market watchers disagreed on the identity of the mooted buy, with some pointing to a domestic strike and others suggesting an overseas foray.
As for Charter, there was a boring reason for TI's rise: brokers Merrill Lynch and Teather & Greenwood have gone positive on the stock ahead of forthcoming results.
The rest of the market had a day to forget as fears of a US rate hike cast a dark shadow over trading. The FTSE 100 was further unsettled by a veiled profit warning from the heavyweight drug group Glaxo Wellcome and finished 179.7 lower at 6117.5.
The blue chip index was depressed from the opening bell as the stream of companies' results contained a few nasty surprises. The morning rout turned into a minor carnage when the US employment cost index, a key indicator of inflation, came in stronger than expected.
The numbers caused a three-figure fall in the Dow and London could not resist the selling pressure.
The second-liners fared a little better, with the FTSE 250 closing 24.4 lower at 5947.6 and the Small Cap losing 7.5 to 2715.6.
Glaxo's caution on its earnings outlook shocked the market. The stock plummeted 199p to 1,553p - a near 12 per cent plunge - after it warned that it would not meet its target of double-digit EPS growth. Hefty downgrades are now likely and a growing band of dealers believe that Glaxo's troubles will put the merger with SmithKline Beecham, down 37.5p to 736.5p in sympathy, back on the agenda.
The Woolwich was also badly hit, falling 23.5p to 334p as interim results failed to dispel fears about profits and margins.
The retailer GUS shed 41p to 645.5p after the expected bearish trading update. However, no analyst appeared to have downgraded and the sharp fall was probably deepened by a stock overhang.
BT was also in the doldrums, ringing up a 44p fall to 1086p after disappointing interims numbers and a worrying rise in costs.
Bullish stories were rare.
Reckitt & Colman bucked the trend and rose another 41p to 863.5p and is now nearly 100p higher than the price of its proposed offer for Dutch group Benckiser.
Reckitt's jump highlights traders' belief in a counterbid from Unilever, down 9p to 572p, or a private equity group such as Hicks Tate Muse First.
ICI was another survivor, rising 15.5p to 695.5p after a disposal by its South African division.
There are whispers that the blockbuster sale of ICI's acrylics unit to a US competitor is near.
Invensys was hoisted 7p better to 336.25p on talk of imminent sell-offs and a Merrill Lynch push. The US broker has included the old BTR Siebe in its list of top 15 stocks which also features BG, up 2.75p to 369.75p. Mobile group Orange dropped out and lost 43p to 955.5p.
In the FTSE 250, Enterprise Oil flared 17.75p higher to 451p amid returning rumours of bid interest, possibly from the Italian oil giant ENI. Good results from rival Lasmo, up 6.5p to 160.25p, also helped.
Insurer LIMIT firmed 5.5p to 146.5p amid growing whispers that the mystery bidder is Warren Buffett's Gen Re.
Continued offer talk propped up the paper group DS Smith, up 8.5p to 185.5p and printer St Ives, 27p higher at 582p, while suggestions that a sale of the Odeon cinema chain is close sent Rank 5.5p higher 280.5p.
Cinema developer Pacific Media rose 0.10p to 1.01p amid whispers of expansion in the Far East.
Building merchant Travis Perkins rose 8p to 776p after saying it is considering how to respond to the bid by BSS for plumbers merchant PTS, up 6p to 227p.
United Assurance lost 0.5p to 431p, despite vague talk of a bid from Britannic, down 10p to 960p, while TV producer Flextech was savaged by a Lehman's downgrade and shed 60p to 892.5p. Fears of another profit warning sent Jarvis 14p lower to a 12-month nadir of 257.5p.
Car parts group Shalibane broke down after a profit warning, plunging 27p to a worst-ever 51.5p, while engineer Holders Technology fell 22.5p to 87.5p after poor interims. Charter carrier AB Airlines was suspended at 13p pending clarification of its financial position while pub owner Ultimate Leisure debuted on AIM with a 31.5p rise to 176.5p.
SEAQ VOLUME: 1.06bn
SEAQ TRADES: 73,879
GILTS INDEX: 105.86 -0.03
THE MEDICAL products maker NMT has been targeted by some nosy buyers amid bid talk. The Aim-listed maker of a revolutionary syringe with a retractable needle shot up 5.5p to 166.5p despite the market's malaise.
Some investors say NMT has attracted the attentions of a US predator which could be willing to pay more than 250p a share. NMT will be a prize catch for any American company as its US sales are set to take off after a change in safety laws.
FRENCH restaurant group Chez Gerard issued a profits warning and the shares lost 6.5p to 182.5p. Difficult trading at the chain was one of the City's worst-kept secrets and rumours of a warning had been doing the rounds.
The only people who did not know about it were Chez Gerard's financial public relations agency Smithfield Financial, who steered journalists away from writing a story a few weeks ago. A dose of French egg on their faces would not be out of place.Reuse content