Footsie is no longer following the Wall Street lead

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
The stock market has lost its New York connection. At one time it quickly reflected record breaking runs on Wall Street. But not any more. As US shares staged yet another remarkable display, hitting new highs during London trading, blue chips could muster little more than a polite yawn.

Worries about the latest Tory defection and the increasing shakiness of John Major's Government more than offset more heroics by the Dow Jones Average.

The FT-SE 100 index ended just 0.3 points higher at 3,740.3 in thin, lacklustre trading.

It could, perhaps, even be argued that New York's record- breaking antics prevented a sharp Footsie decline. After all, in the past year shares have been happy to ignore New York strength but have frequently followed any weakness.

So the much signalled decoupling from New York has been remarkably selective; with the widening gap between the two share markets one of the results.

Blue chips have lagged behind their US counterparts for more than a year. With election worries looming much earlier than expected there is an increasing chance the gap will yawn even wider.

Lower interest rates and more positive company profits as the result season unwinds could, however, provide the market with a spur next week, providing the Government weathers Monday's debate on the Scott Report.

As if to prove that second liners do not always meekly follow their blue chip peers, the supporting FT-SE 250 index moved to a new high, up 10.3 points to 4,208.

British Steel was the best performing blue chip, as buyers remained impressed by what appears to be improving conditions in the industry. The shares gained 7p to 178.5p.

Imperial Chemical Industries, 25p firmer at 882p, reflected Thursday's figures and Greenalls, the pubs chain, added 6.5p to 583.5p following an upbeat trading statement.

Hanson, refusing to comment on bid speculation, eased 1.75p to 188.5p. Heavy trading in Shanks & McEwan, the waste disposal group, suggested Hanson could have sold its 4.7 per cent interest.

When it moved in three years ago there was, of course, hopes it would mount a bid. But Hanson was content to sit on its stake. It could now have sold as part of its deck clearing exercise ahead of the demerger.

S&M, as shares were traded at 95p, shaded 2p to 98p.

Acorn Computer, year's figures on Monday, jumped 25p to 240p following US interest in its link with Oracle to design an Internet surfer which could be on the market later this year.

Lynx, the computer software group, was also in demand, gaining 11p to 87p (after 99p). It has arranged to distribute Netscape's Internet software in the UK.

Some other hi-tech shares were lifted by New York's rediscovery of technology shares. Telspec gained 87p to 775p and Filtronic Comtek 28p to 438p.

Unitech, where a 29.4 per cent stake hovers, gained 14p to 559p.

Some bio stocks weakened. ML Laboratories fell on comments about director share sales, losing 21p to 382p. British Biotech and Celltech also gave ground.

Although unchanged at 186p, Ladbroke continued to attract whispers of corporate activity; Ascot Holdings, duly confirming it is near to selling most of its pubs estate, gained 19p to 354p.

Tesco was again mauled by stockbroker comment. A Merrill Lynch downgrading - from pounds 750m to pounds 730m - lowered the shares 5.5p to 270.5p.

French Connection, the fashion group, was threadbare after a profit warning, falling 41p to 145p.

GKN gained 13p to 840p with James Capel talking about the shares going to pounds 10 but Thorn EMI continued to have second thoughts about the demerger, off 26p at 1,607p.

Abbey National rebounded from Thursday's fall with analysts taking a positive view about prospects. The shares gained 11p to 597p.

Year's figures are due on Monday and around pounds 1bn is expected. There are also suggestions it could produce a response to Nationwide's initiatives in the mortgage battle.

The call for an Office of Fair Trading probe into the bread price war lifted Carrs Milling 26p to 339p but left Tomkins (Ranks Hovis) 4p lower at 268.5p.

Antofagasta, with banking and mining operations in South America, held at 373p as Williams de Broe said the shares "represent excellent value".

Meekatharra, holding investment meetings, held at 33p. It is said to be sitting on land in Canada which could have substantial gold deposits.

TAKING STOCK

rConsolidated Coal, in the process of buying the Welsh mining interests of Glotec Mining for pounds 2.6m in cash and shares, held at 52p. It is raising pounds 1.6m through a placing at 53p. The company may break even in the year ending next month but Robert Armstrong at Fiske & Co, the stockbroker, expects profits of pounds 2.5m in the following year. Consolidated, run by Rhidian Davies, intends to concentrate on the Welsh mining industry and has a few add-on acquisitions in the pipeline.

rGFM International Investors, the US fund noted for its interest in small companies, is checking out of Arcadian International, the hotelier. Last year it had more than 8.5 per cent. Yesterday it said it had cut its interest below 3 per cent by selling 4.85 million shares. Arcadian held at 45p.

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