Footsie does a smart about-turn in the wake of Dow

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
The election sell-off came to an abrupt end. After six days of ragged retreat shares staged a strong rally with Footsie surging 55.9 points to 4,270.7.

New York provided the lifeline. Although interest rates were expected to move higher, a sudden rush of US buying translated into a more confident atmosphere in the stock market which was prepared to, at least for the time being, ignore the implications of dearer money.

Even the election and related rumblings were forgotten. However, Footsie is still more than 150 points below the level ruling when John Major announced polling day.

Financials led the recovery. HSBC appeared to turn positive on a collection of money shares including Lloyds TSB, up 28.5p to 482.5p.

The Prudential Corporation's annexation of Scottish Amicable left the market pondering about the intentions of the thwarted bidders, particularly Abbey National, another HSBC tip, up 21p at 735.5p. The Pru rose 15.5p to 555.5p.

Other financials, seen in many quarters as the crucial indicator of the market's behaviour, moved ahead. Commercial Union, for example, threw off worries about any tobacco liability, jumping 31.5p to 671.5p.

Centrica, the British Gas distribution arm, added 3.5p to 62.5p as SBC Warburg took the shares to its corporate heart. It suggested the group, dubbed eccentrica in some quarters, had a short-term share expectancy of 70p with 90p a medium-term target. BG, the other half of the gas equation, rose 2p to 160.5p.

Pilkington, the glass maker, had yet another shattering day, falling 7.5p to 121p, lowest for four years. A warning profits for the year ending this month would not reach the market's expectations of pounds 130m did the damage.

British Steel slipped 3p to 158.75p as the planned German steel takeover failed to materialise with Krupp withdrawing its hostile bid for rival Thyssen. Now the hope is the two will manage a peaceful merger. In the short term, however, the break-down means European steel prices will not enjoy the benefit of reduced German competition.

Drugs had an eventful day. Shield Diagnostic added 35p to 725p and Scotia recovered 40p to 419p following a presentation for its Foscan cancer drug. Polymasc Pharmaceutical put on 18.5p to 137.5p reflecting a collaboration link with Oxford Molecular. Against such a background Cambridge Antibody, placed at 500p, had little difficulty romping to 610p.

Associated British Foods, with the pounds 360m Irish sale proceeds burning a hole in its corporate pocket, rose 26p to 559p as the market pondered its likely move. Tate & Lyle, firm at 434.5p, is one target in the frame.

The buoyant atmosphere was good for Railtrack, up 21p at 467p, and BAT Industries put on another 19p to 528p on demerger hopes and the growing belief some of its tobacco liabilities could be ringfenced. Oriel, the insurance broker, ended at a 12-month low, off 9p at 107.5p. It has been in takeover talks since February of last year. These leisurely proceedings have finally established it is "unlikely" that a satisfactory offer will appear.

Pathfinder Properties, a BES company, made its AIM debut through an introduction at 17.5p.

Symonds, the once high-flying electronic group, blew a fuse, falling 20.5p to 38.5p after admitting figures will not match market expectations.

Ashurst Technology, with Canadian metal interests, rose 7.5p to 60p; the price touched 95p last month. The company may have hit a rich gold seam in the Ukraine. It announced a co-operation deal involving five "advanced" gold projects and three exploration prospects.

Megalomedia, the old Graduate Appointments recruitment business which is led by Lord Saatchi, edged ahead 1p to 91p. An institutional investor has picked up 500,000 shares at 90p, most coming from Webmedia, a company in which Megalomedia has an 18.9 per cent interest.

The media group is known to be on the look-out for acquisitions. It acquired its stake in Webmedia in August.

Hay and Robertson, the merchandiser, continued to recover, reaching 153.5p, up 10p. Cash Converters, an Australian-based group specialising in franchised second-hand shops, added 2.5p to 22p. The shares have been weak. Floated at 27p last year, the company said it was unaware of any trading reason for the share retreat and blamed comments by an Australian MP. It said "clean" profits would not vary by more than 15 per cent from last year's A$6.5m.

Taking Stock

Silver Shield, a windscreen replacement group, is still near to completing a large acquisition and, in the meantime, is busy buying in its franchisees. It hopes eventually to own all its outlets. Trading progress has been slower than chairman Neil McClure, ex-UBS, had expected. Interim profits come out at pounds 81,000 and, perhaps, pounds 150,000 is likely for the year. The shares firmed to 3.75p.

Interest is developing in TLS, the vehicle rental company. Figures today should be encouraging, say pounds 5.8m up from pounds 4.2m. The current year could produce pounds 7.5m. The group's rental success is attracting admiring glances and could soon produce a bid. GE Capital, the US giant, is thought to be interested and other predators lurk. The shares rose 4p to 120.5p.

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