Major's mortgage promise gives builders a break

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The Independent Online
Builders, long in the mire as the housing market collapsed, clutched with almost a touch of desperation at the Prime Minister's promise that no further cuts were planned in mortgage tax relief.

Mr Major's comments that a "range of options" was being considered to help home owners allowed building shares to notch some firm gains at a time when the market was struggling against some determined profit-taking and the influence of a weak New York market.

Barratt Developments, the house builder, led the advance with a 9p gain to 204p, and among building material shares Caradon put on 9p to 251p and Wolseley 9p to 392p.

With the rail strike again retarding activity, the market seemed set for an indifferent performance from the opening bell. It did manage a modest late-morning rally but gains were quickly wiped out as New York fell sharply from its latest peak.

Technology shares led the American plunge. Heavy profit taking in the likes of IBM and Microsoft did the damage, with analysts talking about the sector suffering a 10 per cent correction. A higher-than-expected US trade deficit also hit sentiment.

The US high-tech setback was mirrored in London, with Credit Lyonnais Laing said to be negative on the sector, particularly distributors like Diploma, off 18p at 476p, and Farnell, 36p at 609p.

Zeneca, with the US house Merrill Lynch making cautious noises, suddenly lost much of its takeover allure, suffering a 46p fall to 1,124p.

But financials kept up their speculative charge. Schroders managed a 10p gain to 1,363p with National Westminster Bank the latest name in the frame. With SG Warburg, soon to disappear, up 12p at 807p, its Mercury Asset Management offshoot was pushed 11p higher to 843p.

NatWest had to contend with profit downgrades by its investment arm, NatWest Securities. It has lowered this year's figure 4 per cent to pounds 1.795bn and next 5 per cent to pounds 2.044bn. The shares fell 14p to 572p.

Close Brothers, the merchant bank, added 12p to 303p. It has replaced Rothmans International in the FT-SE 250 index. Rothmans was taken over in a pounds 4.2bn deal by Financiere Richemont, a Swiss company controlled by the Rupert family of South Africa. Its departure leaves BAT Industries, down 9p at 488p, as the index's only quoted tobacco share. Power shares continued to attract attention, with PowerGen, up 5p at 552p, still reflecting the upbeat trading statement and the suspicion that it could emerge as the long-mooted Hanson target. Among the regionals, Seeboard put on 12p to 448p.

United Biscuits recovered 10p to 289p, with takeover hopes mingling with suggestions that the group, once it rids itself of Keebler of the US, will be a highly attractive UK and European operation. Break-up value is put at 220p.

Iceland, the frozen food retailer, was actively traded, with a 7.6 million deal at 175p (said to have been completed by Kleinwort Benson) dominating attention. The shares fell 5p to 180p.

Kingfisher, heavily traded as it met analysts, edged forward 3p to 452p.

Courtaulds, the chemical group, fell 14p to 435p following a warning of margin pressures. Its caution lowered Imperial Chemical Industries 15p to 797p.

Calor, the gas group, gained 7p to 275p. The price has climbed from 255p since it announced a joint venture with SHV, the Dutch investment group which has a 50.6 per cent stake. The two parties intend to operate joint liquefied petroleum gas ventures. Calor will pump in pounds 70m.

Reed International climbed 25p to 948p on its planned newspaper and book disposals.

Harrington Kilbride, the struggling publisher, fell 6p to 27p as it said its refinancing package would be at "a significant discount" to the market price. Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull unsettled Allied Domecq by suggesting a switch into Guinness. Allied fell 8p to 540p and Guinness rose 3p to 490p.

Profit-taking ahead of the widely flagged Thorn EMI strategy meeting, which could result in the sale of the music division, left the shares 17p off at 1,360p.

VHE, the heavy engineering group not paying a final dividend, plunged 20p to 70p. Profit warnings unsettled EW Fact, the tuition group, and Canadian Pizza.

United Energy, the little resources group, held at 12p. Speculation that has swirled round the group is likely to be rekindled by the sale of 14 per cent of warrants, which can be exercised at 30p.

SIG, the building materials group, edged ahead 4p to 222p. It has just fixed up five fire protection contracts worth more than pounds 2m.