Footsie reluctant to return from its summer holiday

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Shares came close to reaching a new high as the stock market took heart from the continuing strength of the autumn results season.

With more than 100 companies reporting this week, the market should have cast aside its summertime lethargy and once again enjoy more lively, swing-along action.

Unfortunately there is a large element of hope deferred. The latest advance was achieved on another round of relatively low trading volumes, suggesting the holiday season influence is inhibiting activity.

There are many who believe the FT-SE 100 index will soon hit the important, 4,000-points mark. But even the optimists are disturbed by the poor trading interest and ponder whether the market's current strength can be trusted.

Footsie ended with a 17.8-points gain to 3,910.8, just 7.9 from the high hit last month.

The Railtrack express was once more a major factor in the Footsie performance. For the second consecutive trading session the shares powered ahead, gaining 11p to 280.5p, a 21p advance since the opening flag on Friday.

Stories of US buying added to the excitement. It was rumoured a large US transport group had taken the view that Railtrack, despite its post flotation headway, remained undervalued and was busy putting together a stake.

The suspicion that some form of corporate action could engulf the company has been bubbling for some time. There are also high expectations of property developments, either straightforward sales or joint ventures. And to pile on the appeal there remains a 6.4 per cent dividend yield.

P&O was the best performing blue chip, up 42.5p to 559.5p, on its container merger, followed by Lasmo, enjoying Merrill Lynch support. The oil group's shares rose 9p to 214.5p with the US investment house suggesting they should go to 225p.

Tate & Lyle continued to talk its way round the market, improving 6.5p to 471.5p and BTR, with more disposals, put on 3.5p to 265.5p ahead of Thursday's interim results when the dividend is expected to be hacked.

Pilkington, as Mercury Asset Management cut its holding from 19.25 per cent to 18.89 per cent, drifted 4p lower to 201p.

Three of last week's strong performers, Allied Domecq, Rolls-Royce and Zeneca, gave ground on the inevitable profit taking and Thorn lost 5.5p to 383.5p. The rental group only arrived in Footsie last month as part of the Thorn EMI demerger. Its shares have had a poor reception and are in danger of being booted out of Footsie when the index's committee meets this month.

A place has to be found for newly merged LucasVarity, up 3p at 239p, and unless it stages an exhilarating run Thorn will be unlikely to escape the humiliation of falling at the first hurdle. Courtaulds, up 4p at 440.5p, and Southern Electric, down 2.5p at 670p, are the other constituents in danger.

Danka Business Systems, buying Kodak's imaging business for $684m, jumped 85p to 560p and British Vita added 24.5p to 235.5p as interim results came in ahead of expectations. The BV performance helped other chemical groups, besides Courtaulds. Among others higher was Imperial Chemical Industries, up 12.5p to 838.5p. A confident statement from housebuilder Wilson Bowden, up 20.5p to 440.5p, encouraged builders and forecasts of higher white goods sales brought comfort to Dixons, with a 15p gain to 564p.

Yorkshire Water, which appears to have recovered form its disasters of last year, held an investment presentation. The shares shaded to 665p.

BICC, the cables and construction group, fell 4p to 328.5p as Franklin Resources increased its stake to 7 per cent.

Go-Ahead, the bus business, moved ahead 15.5p to 309.5p as it became the likely operator of Thames Trains, the company's first train venture. It also hopes to win the Docklands Light Railway franchise.

Ashurst Technology, an AIM-traded stock, expressed "surprise" that the Morgan Grenfell units trusts under scrutiny were claiming to own 49.9 per cent of its capital. It is seeking clarification. The shares fell 5p to 32.5p.

Alpha Omikron traded at its 10.5p low as GFM International, the US investment house, said it had sold its 5.7 million (7.7 per cent) shareholding. Ex- Lands, the property group, continued to reflect takeover hopes, gaining a further 1.75p to 12.75p.

Blenheim, the exhibition group, recaptured the bid spotlight, gaining 13p to 352p and US buying was responsible for engineer Siebe improving 13p to 951p.

TAKING STOCK

o Phytopharm, developing drugs from medicinal plants, hovers at 190.5p, against the 293p touched since it arrived on the stock market in May. A development update is expected in the next two months. The market, however, has grown twitchy awaiting progress of its lead drug, an eczema treatment called Zemaphyte. The company is talking with UK and US authorities and although there is said to be an increasingly enthusiastic response there is little chance of regulatory approval before the spring.

o IAF, specialising in financing commercial aircraft and other transport, is an "entrepreneurial situation" for the adventurous, suggests stockbroker Greig Middleton. Last year's profits were disappointing but GM looks for a a pounds 1.3m advance to pounds 3.5m. The shares are at 10.75p.

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