Health shares provide a tonic for election lethargy

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The Independent Online
The stock market was hooked on drugs with some of the second-line health shares attracting attention.

It was, however, a day when election lethargy took hold. Trading was subdued with the political war-of-words dulling the enthusiasm of many investors, keeping them on the sidelines.

Even New York could not offer another pick-me-up. With Wall Street showing signs of hesitancy the market for a time drifted into negative territory only to stage a modest late rally when the Dow Jones Average added a few points; Footsie closed 7.8 points higher at 4,294.6.

Health shares struggled against the tide of indifference. Celltech jumped 34p to 591.5p following whispers of interesting developments and Cortecs International put on 43p to 280p on stories Nomura had put out a buy signal ahead of a progress report on the group's osteoporosis treatment. Others higher included Scotia, still struggling to reclaim earlier ground, and ML Laboratories, which seems to have come out of a long, uncomfortable dive. Chiroscience firmed 3.5p to 384p with Lehman Brothers suggesting a 500p target.

But Shield Diagnostic remained under the weather, off 17.5p to 602.5p, despite a UBS presentation, and recent high flyers Drew Scientific, down 5p to 140p, and Tepnel Life, off 7p at 105.5p, continued to sink nearer earth.

The Glaxo Wellcome giant endured a two-way pull, ending 5p higher at 1,121.5p. In early trading the shares were ruffled by stories from New York casting new doubt on its Lamivudine hepatitis B drug. Shares of Biochem Pharma, which discovered the treatment, were hit on Nasdaq on suggestions that two investment houses were making cautious noises about the treatment, trailed at a conference last week.

The shares, however, were later lifted by details of a new migraine drug to be marketed in Europe. The treatment, Naramig, has been approved for use in Sweden and is being studied by various regulatory authorities.

Elsewhere utilities, after their storming performance, ran into profit taking. National Power was clipped 10.5p to 530p and Railtrack 5p to 452p.

It was not all one-way traffic. PowerGen firmed to 642p and Southern Electric, the last independent regional distributor, was given a further charge by takeover speculation.

The shares, in brisk trading, gained another 9p to 444.5p, only 9p below their peak. The bid rumour was vague, suggesting a US group may unsettle the election campaign with a strike for control.

Other privatised shares did well. BAA, the airports group, continued to bask in SBC Warburg approval, climbing 12p to 528.5p. British Airways was another flying high on the back of Warburg, up 15.5p to 680.5p.

BAT Industries was puffed up 28p to 541p on talk of a settlement in the US tobacco litigation saga and Tate & Lyle was again sweetened by muted takeover gossip, up 6.5p to 446.5p.

Banker HSBC outperformed its sector with a 23.5p gain to 1,542.5p. Dresdner Kleinwort Benson prompted the gain by putting a 1,900p target on the shares.

The two quoted cider makers were active. It seems HSBC James Capel caused the ferment by lowering its cider estimates.

HP Bulmer responded by saying its volume was up 4 per cent last year and it was thinking about increasing its pounds 29m marketing spend. Its shares ended unchanged at 569p while struggling rival Matthew Clark lost 11.5p to 310.5p.

LucasVarity gave up 1.5p to 196.5p with BZW saying sell and Salomon Brothers suggesting buy.

Optometrics, the optical equipment company, added another 4p to 26.5p on the arrival of a consortium and Freeport Leisure, running out-of-town factory outlets, rose 22p to 158.5p, reflecting the C&J Clark deal with MEPC.

Middlesex Holdings, with financial and steel interests in the former Soviet Union, gained 0.5p to 8.25p, just below its 12-month high. Year's results are due next month with some looking for profits to top pounds 10m against pounds 5.2m last time.

Dixon Motors revved up 23p to 316.5p after chairman Donald Driver said trading this year was "considerably ahead of last year and well ahead of budget". His comments prompted ABN Amro Hoare Govett to lift his year's estimate from pounds 7.5m to pounds 7.8m.

Pittencrieff Resources, the oil group, held at 42.5p. After the market closed it disclosed a 60p-a-share US offer could be on its way. Gothic Energy, quoted on Nasdaq, is the predator.

Taking Stock

r Bula Resources, the oil tiddler with 1.6 billion shares in issue, has new problems in the former Soviet Union. Its hopes to have more production flowing soon at its Salymskoye oilfield have been dashed by an early spring. It is undertaking a review of its Salymskoye programme. The setback follows the departure of chairman Jim Stanley who resigned this week to "pursue his other mining interests". There have, however, been rumblings of discontent among shareholders with claims 15 per cent of the capital backed a Stanley- must-go campaign. The shares fell 0.5p to 1.5p.

More than 5 million shares of healthcare group Biocompatibles International were placed at 1,335p. Some came from US giant Johnson & Johnson. The shares shaded 5p to 1,360p.

Data Bank

FTSE 100 4294.6 + 7.8

FTSE 250 4524.6 + 2.9

FTSE 350 2116.0 + 3.4

SEAQ VOLUME 672.5m shares, 42,566 bargains

Gilts Index 94.03 + 0.12