Pile on such unpredictables as the US non-farm jobs figures, due on Friday, and the direction of interest rates and there was precious little comfort for the optimists.
Zeneca, the drugs group which has so often inspired the market, was also responsible for the nervousness. Its trading statement was a shade disappointing and in the prevailing atmosphere such a highly rated share was bound to suffer. The weakness spread to other drug shares.
The anniversary of the 1987 crash has tended to haunt shares after they hit a peak last week. Since then Footsie has fallen almost 80 points with a 31.8 decline to 3,993.5 yesterday. The US payroll figures have already caused dramatic gyrations this year as, on a number of occasions, they have come in far removed from the general round of forecasts. The monthly Ken and Eddie interest rate meetings often create nervousness. Today's get-together is expected to leave rates unchanged.
Zeneca fell 38.5p to 1,711.5p in brisk trading. SmithKline Beecham gave up 19.5p to 763.5p and Glaxo Wellcome 15.5p to 970.5p.
British Biotech, strong lately on Greig Middleton support, tumbled 20p to 220.5p as Deutsche Morgan Greenfell placed 21 million shares through Morgan Stanley at 215p. The stock came from two of the three funds run by disgraced fund manager Peter Young. DMG still has more than 50 million shares.
The seemingly remorseless progress of the Clinton election campaign is creating anxiety for the drugs industry. There is a worry he will, when elected, indulge in some of his pet medical projects which were abandoned when his presidency hit the rocks. Any re-introduction of some of his health programmes could hit drug companies.
Communications and utilities endeavoured to throw some light on the day's action. The media free-for-all starts on Friday. Although many investors have already taken up their positions there was evidence of late manoeuvring. A Carlton Communications strike at HTV, despite the appearance of United News & Media with a 19.9 per cent stake, is widely expected. HTV rose 2p to 371.5p and Ulster and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees were a shade firmer. Granada, with a substantial Yorkshire stake and the favourite to pounce, added 2.5p to 880p. Pearson, where Carlton replaced BSkyB as the rumoured predator, jumped 18.5p to 756.5p.
Utilities still dwelt on the US bid for Northern Electric, down 8.5p to 639.5p despite more determined buying by bidder CalEnergy. East Midlands Electricity, which had been the market's favourite target, held at 608.5p. There is still a strong swell of opinion that it will soon be on the receiving end of a US strike. Waters rose with satisfaction over Thames figures mingling with hopes of overseas bidders. Thames gained 7.5p to 552.5p.
Vodafone put on 3p to 233.5p with ABN Amro Hoare Govett moving onto the buy tack; Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull is also bullish.
Alpha Airports moved 5.5p higher to 102p as stories of takeover action wafted around. BAA, the airports group down 8.5p at 515p, was the rumoured bidder.
Granada's 25 per cent interest, inherited from Forte, is for sale and a host of aviation and catering groups have been circling the airport catering, duty free and baggage business. Alpha came to market 30 months ago at 140p a share.
An analysts' meeting lifted Imperial Chemical Industries 3.5p to 803.5p and Dalgety, showing analysts its European petfood operations, drifted 8p lower to 313.5p following news of the retirement of finance director John Martyn.
Lonrho gained 4.5p to 163.5p on Dieter Bock's sale of his 18.3 per cent interest to Anglo-merican. Allied Domecq gained 5.5p to 479p with Kleinwort Benson advising a switch out of Grand Metropolitan, down 5.5p at 470p.
Torday & Carlisle, the marine components group, fell 3p to 40.5p as Dowding & Mills sold its 8.7 per cent stake, acquired during its failed pounds 13.6m bid five years ago.
Shield, a property group, jumped as deal maker Luke Johnson jumped on board. A restructuring involves a pounds 494,000 cash subscription by investors led by Mr Johnson. The newcomers will have 51 per cent of the capital. The company is to be renamed Lonsdale and seek acquisitions, which are likely to need "external funding".