FTSE dives into red in thin trading

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The Independent Online
THE UK stock market slumped into the red on Thursday, with several traders remaining on the sidelines in the last day before the Christmas break.

The benchmark FTSE 100 index fell in the shortened session with trading so thin that turnover struggled to top 100 million shares.

Despite New York's overnight surge Footsie ended 41.6 points down at 5,867.2. However, supporting shares moved ahead with the mid cap index up 14.8 points at 4,812.8 and the small cap up 8 points to 2,052.4.

"Opening has been a waste of time; we've been twiddling our thumbs," one stockbroker complained.

British Petroleum, ahead of its merger with Amoco, was the most heavily traded share, achieving a volume of just 4.21 million shares.

The price strengthened 14.5p to 916.5p, the result of some gentle shopping by tracker funds building a position ahead of the Amoco deal.

Diageo toasted the festivities with the best Footsie gain as fears LVMH would sell some of its 10.84 per cent stake finally evaporated as the French group gave up its pursuit of the Sanofi beauty business.

Stagecoach hardened 4.5p to 254.5p and business support group Hays, helped by investment meetings, rose 6p to 483p.

Weak sales figures from the John Lewis Partnership for last week unsettled retailers with Marks & Spencer, off 9.75p to 408p, and Asda, 3.25p to 159.5p. Next retreated 5p to 480p and Boots 14.5p to 1,040p.

Other retailers to feel a Christmas Eve chill were Laura Ashley, off 0.5p to 15p, and Bentalls, the department store group, 4p at 73.5p.

But Uno, the furniture chain that has been under relentless pressure in the festive run-up, improved 6p to 37p. The shares were 337.5p last year.

Mortgage banks, on continuing talk of growing competition, had a poor session with Halifax off 28p to 850p and Woolwich 5.75p to 354p.

Mining stocks were also friendless. Biliton lost 4p to 120p and RioTinto, 20.5p to 691.5p.

Colt Telecom, the fledgling telephony group, set to be the top performing share of the year, experienced a rare misdial, giving up 22.5p to 925p.

Despite confident talk of record Christmas sales mobile phone shares fell back. Securicor retreated 8.5p to 499.5p and Vodafone 23p to 970p as the inevitable profit takers grabbed their Christmas box. Others lowered included BT, down, 4p at 902.5p, and Orange, 6p at 691p.

National Power slipped 2p to 516.5p after failing to clinch a 20 per cent stake in Poland's second largest generator.

Computer shares had another good session with Misys putting on 23.75p to 447.5p, encouraged by the overnight high- tech performance in New York.

Goldsmiths, the jewellers where takeover action could break out, gained a further 5p to 169p but Moss Bros, the menswear retailer, fell 6p to 144p as the rumoured bid failed to materialise.

Eyecare Products blinked 2.5p higher to 14.5p following an agreed 15p a share offer from a company linked to its management. Talks with two other possible bidders have been terminated.

Servisair rose 19p to 174p as possible bidders circled the aircraft support group. Vardon, the leisure operation selling its 23 Sea Life Centres and two dungeon attractions, fell 9p to 137.5p at disappointment with the pounds 47m realised.

Car dealers again responded to the outbreak of takeover activity that has embraced Dagenham Motors and Evans Halshaw.

European Motors moved ahead 6p to 62p and Sytner 6p to 156.5p. Inchcape, however, reversed 5.5p to 122p.

Silver Shield, the windscreen replacement company that controls third division Swansea FC, held at 1.75p after obtaining planning permission for a pounds 75m redevelopment of the Swansea stadium.

Reflec, the troubled reflective ink maker, returned to market after a near four month suspension, while the yearly report and accounts were completed, at an unchanged 4p.

The shares first arrived nearly three years ago at 40p; they soared to 109p before falling sharply as the company ran into problems.

MSB International, the information technology recruitment group, rose a further 27.5p to 310p.

The shares have climbed 170p since an upbeat trading statement appeared last week. Still they remain well below the 1,047p peak hit in the spring.