MAM misses out as financials lead blue-chip surge

MARKET REPORT

Mercury Asset Management is missing the fun. As blue chips in general and financials in particular lead the stock market higher, the City's most powerful fund manager appears to be the wallflower at the party.

Footsie climbed to yet another peak but MAMs fell 16.5p to 1,272.5p. The shares have found the going uncomfortable since peaking at 1,463.5p in May. The market is uneasy over the group's investment performance. The most persistent story is it suffered a poor second quarter and, in certain areas, is, in effect, bottom of the class.

It appears its mixed equity and property fund had a particularly unimpressive time.

PDFM, the fund management arm of Swiss owned UBS, is another said to have underperformed in the second quarter. It has for long been banking on an equity collapse, putting a surprising large slice of its funds into cash.

There is no doubt that many fund managers have been caught on the hop by the strength of equities. The chorus of caution in the Merrill Lynch survey could be an illustration of their misjudgement.

MAMs, with around pounds 70bn under management, has been the deciding influence in many big takeover battles. It ensured Granada won the fierce pounds 3.9bn battle for control of the Forte catering and hotel empire.

Whether MAMs and its investment supremo, the remarkable Carol Galley, have misjudged equities remains to be seen. The share performance, even with the help of occasional takeover interest, is suggesting MAMs may have underperformed.

Footsie managed another unabashed, heady gallop. Once again overseas investors were out in force. In heavy trading - Seaq volume topped 1 billion shares - the blue-chip index soared 64.9 points to 4,964.2. At one time it seemed intent on surging through the 5,000 barrier. In mid afternoon it was up 92.5 at 4,991.8.

Then New York introduced a little caution into the proceedings. In the event it shrugged off early hesitancy and during London hours smashed through 8,000 points.

Compared with New York and European markets London looks cheap. Overseas investors are unworried by the increasingly inflated valuations which, anyway, are still below those in most other markets.

Even so, the feeling shares are rising too quickly, too steeply prevails in many quarters. There is a tendency to draw comparisons with the 1987 crash; the anniversary of the great equities blood bath is drawing uncomfortably near.

Although the FTSE 250 index jumped 36 points blue chips remained the attraction, underlining overseas buying.

Some foreigners feel quite adventurous trading in London; they are not, however, going to wander outside the comfort and protection of leading equities.

Financials again had a good run with HSBC powering ahead 65p (after 116p) to 2,151p. National Westminster Bank, on the rumoured shake-up at its securities arm, recovered 21p to 874p.

The market still feels a big financial bid is being hatched. HSBC has at one time or another been linked with almost every financial in sight. Abbey National, currently bidding for Cater Allen, is another seen as strongly acquisitive.

Drugs, a long-time favourite of US fund managers, enjoyed support. They continue to direct their attention towards the bigger players with Zeneca up 67p to 2,265p; only six months ago speculators were piling into the shares in the hope of a bid materialising at around 2,200p.

ScottishPower had an eventful session, closing 20p higher at 467p. Some chunky trades went through with some suggesting technical influences.

BT continued to feel the impact of the MCI fiasco, falling 7p to 445.5p. The latest twist in the drink merger cocktail lifted Grand Metropolitan 15.5p to 621.5p and Guinness 14.5p to 620.5p.

Among supporting shares British Biotech continued to rally, up 15.5p to 183p but Medeva fell 34.5p to 222p with worries about Ionamin, the recent subject of a "Dear Doctor" letter from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Iceland, the frozen food chain, rose 3p to 90.5p as Credit Lyonnais Laing hung a buy sign over the shares and Northern Foods jumped 11.5p to 224.5p on SBC Warburg support.

TI, the engineer, enjoyed a NatWest Securities recommendation, putting on 18.5p to 511p.

A trading warning left Plasmon, an electronic equipment group, wallowing 86.5p lower at 92.5p and a profits fall programmed Microgen, a computer concern, 31p down to 118.5p.

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