Investors refuse to be deterred by the party-poopers

MARKET REPORT

Shares powered to yet another peak, despite the increasingly strident chorus proclaiming equities are riding their luck and the inevitable crash - or, perhaps, correction - is about to hit the stock market.

Footsie rose 17.1 points to 4,437.4 in admittedly slack volume. Perhaps more significantly the supporting FTSE 250 index also managed to embrace a new high, gaining 15.4 to 4,729.2.

The market's progress, in the run-up to an election, has been remarkable. The prospects of a change of government have, so far, been blissfully ignored. Although the Conservative-Labour policy gap has never been so narrow, there must be a real possibility foreign investors will be run ragged by the sight of Labour politicians striding along the corridors of power.

Calculations by some leading overseas investment houses suggest there could be a dramatic fall-out from foreign unease with overseas favourites coming under intense pressure.

But many strategists are happy to ignore the prospect, which ever party wins power, of higher interest rates, and economic uncertainty.

It is generally accepted that sterling could come under attack if Labour arrives at No. 10 but then, in terms of company profits, any decline could be an advantage.

Financials which had led the scamper to new high ground seemed to have lost their strength. But the feared financial crack, which could have ended the market's exuberance, has failed to materialise. Indeed some of the less favoured sectors seem to have taken up the running.

Glaxo Wellcome was one of the best-performing blue chips, reaching a peak of 1,117.5p with a 29p gain. Powerful US investment support was behind the gain. Smith Barney was one of the US securities houses advocating the merits of the UK's largest drug company.

It was a heady day for new issues. Ushers of Trowbridge, the brewing group found its second attempt at market life pleasantly agreeable with the shares moving to 123.5p from a 110p placing. Dobbies Garden Centres did even better, romping to 265p from a 200p plant.

Greenalls, the former brewer now concentrating on retailing and wholesaling, dipped 8p to 548p as trusts linked to the Greenall family unloaded 1.3 million shares. The family, which a few years ago controlled the business, now has 5. 7 per cent.

BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster which is attracting increasingly acrimonious comment as it relentlessly tightens its grip on the UK television industry, managed a 2p gain to 618.5p despite the threatened pull-out of 17 per cent shareholder Pathe, and far from encouraging comments from Lehman Brothers.

Zeneca, with year's results due today, reached a 1,902.5p peak with a 19p gain. In some quarters the feeling persists that the long-rumoured Roche bid may not be far behind.

Smaller oil shares were enlivened by thoughts of a predatory strike by cash-rich Enterprise Oil, little changed at 637p. British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate, with a little help from more colourful news from the Gulf of Mexico, gained 37.5p to 1,357.5p and Cairn Energy edged forward 2p to 579.5p. Monument Oil & Gas, regarded as an ideal Enterprise candidate, added 2.5p to 86.75p and Tullow Oil rose 6.5p to 101.5p. A new round of licence awards also influenced Tullow.

Tuskar Resources, once a high-flyer on Colombian exploration hopes, paused for breath after its recent exciting run, easing 0.25p to 5p. The shares, on Nigerian development hopes, have climbed from 1.5p since October.

Suggestions that Kingfisher could be interested in Freemans, the Sears mail order off-shoot, lowered the retailer 6.5p to 680p. Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Television managed to give ground ahead of today's results. The TV group is clearly intent on making itself as expensive as possible to lurking predator Granada and talked about its cameras being yet to focus on its real value. Profits are not expected to be outstanding, say, a year's out-turn of pounds 28m against pounds 26.8m. The shares fell 17.5p to 1,247.5p.

Most observers think a Granada strike is inevitable and it will not be too long delayed once today's figures have been absorbed.

Wassall's US adventure, it is floating its General Cable off-shoot with an aimed-for value of $750m, lifted the shares 22p to 376p, and Ipeco, an engineering group, put on 10p to 87.5p as it unrolled a possible bid of 90p a share. Estate agents Hambros Countrywide rose 2p to 130p.

Taking Stock

Shield Diagnostic remains the darling of the healthcare shares. It reached another peak, up 14.5p to 617p, as the stock market continued to anticipate the fruits of its heart disease research. US trail results are due soon and there is also talk of a City investment presentation.

Utility Cable, specialising in digging tunnels for TV cables, edged forward 0.5p to 16.5p as Greig Middleton made bullish noises. The stockbroker believes the shares are cheap and is encouraged by the broadening of operations away from the core cable business.

The market "appears to be wilfully blind" to the attractions of VideoLogic, say Merrill Lynch. It reckons the shares, unchanged at 55p. are poised for lift off; they touched 111.5p last summer.

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