Market Report: Absence of rate cut brings back the old worries

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THE stock market was unimpressed by the sharp reduction in inflation.

Ahead of the cost-of-living announcement shares were trying to end what has been a volatile account on a firm note. But once the extent of the fall was known gains were lost and by the close the FT-SE share index was nursing a 7.1 points fall at 2,490.8.

Interest rates remained the dominant influence. There had been hopes the inflation figures would be followed immediately by a rates cut. When one failed to materialise all the worries about the lingering recession returned to haunt the market.

The usual array of profit downgradings kept thoughts on the deteriorating prospects for company earnings and dividends.

In the account that ended yesterday the market has been dragged hither and thither by interest rate talk. Over the two weeks the Footsie fell 43.3 points.

Imperial Chemical Industries was the subject of the most intriguing market story. Rumours flowed that Goldman Sachs, the US securities house, had placed the remainder of the old Hanson stake.

But the story seemed wide of the mark. ICI shares, with Seaq putting volume at only 2 million, rose 14p to 1,163p.

Goldman acquired 20 million ICI shares at l,400p. It is known to have placed about half of them. But it is the fate of the rest that intrigues the market. Suggestions the stock was placed in the US have not been supported and there is a nagging suspicion Goldman still has some 10 million unwanted shares on its books.

The US house has almost certainly taken evasive action and hedged its ICI exposure. But any placing around the present market price would leave Goldman out of pocket.

Fisons, the drugs group, which has had a difficult time this year, was also the centre of speculation. An array of rumours swirled, ranging from further US problems to bearish comment in the weekend press. The shares fell 19p to 189p in brisk trading.

Costain, one of the walking wounded of the building sector, was also savaged. A sudden flurry of activity sent the shares tumbling 8p to 30.5p. The company denied rumours that banking support had been withdrawn.

Last month Costain said it was planning to raise cash by selling a stake in its profitable Australian coal mining operation. After making losses of pounds 69.2m it failed to pay a dividend. In December it sold its property portfolio for pounds 101.3m to cut borrowings.

Costain shares were 82p earlier this year. They reached a 358p peak in 1989.

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The start of trading in HSBC (Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation) attracted keen interest. In busy trading the 75p units opened at 322p and moved ahead to 341p. The HKdollars shares, which forced the Footsie steering committee into a special meeting, moved from 330p to 351p.

But it was a hollow gain for the HKdollars units. The six market makers 'encouraged' to make a market in the shares so HSBC can replace Midland Bank in the Footsie on Monday did not record a single deal, only offering to deal in 500 shares. 'It's a joke; the Footsie committee has boobed badly,'one market maker said.

The sensitive HKdollars shares, largely traded in Hong Kong, will be included in Footsie calculations.

It is felt their presence could distort the index. Fund managers with index funds are said to be making representations over the possible HSBC impact.

Barclays de Zoete Wedd headed the downgrading brigade.

It axed its British Petroleum estimate from pounds 495m to pounds 300m because of restructuring costs and foreign exchange movements. The shares fell 6p to 203.5p.

Courtaulds, down 7p to 513p, was lowered pounds 10m to pounds 215m and from pounds 250m to pounds 235m and moved onto the BZW sell list. But the builder Taylor Woodrow suffered the harshest treatment. Profits could be wiped out this year compared with earlier hopes of a pounds 25m profit. Next year's forecast is lowered from pounds 42m to pounds 35m.

BZW feels Taylor Woodrow shares will underperform but it is too late to sell. The shares fell 1p to 78p.

It was not all downgrades. James Capel lifted its Prudential Corporation profit expectation from pounds 410m to pounds 480m because of improved investment gains and an upturn in the insurance market. The shares moved ahead 5p to 247p.

Racal Electronics edged ahead 2.25p to 67p on hopes a deal over its Chubb security systems group will be announced soon.

Shares ended a roller-coaster account with another up-and-down session. The FT-SE index ended 7.1 points down at 2,490.8 after achieving an early 9.1 gain. The FT 30-share index fell 10.2 to 1,903.7. Trading topped the break-even 500 million mark, with Seaq putting volume at 519.5 million shares from 24,968 bargains

Shares of Aegis Group, the media buyer, had another difficult session, falling 17p to a 39p low. They fell 12p on Thursday. James Capel appeared to do the damage. It cut this year's forecast from pounds 49m to pounds 32m. Aegis shares, riding at 128p earlier this year, have been uneasy since two top executives resigned when the London office was dismantled and moved to Paris.

The recovery at Wilshaw, the metals to precast concrete group, impresses the stockbroker Beeson Gregory. It believes the shares, now 15.5p, are ready for institutional support. A casualty of over-optimism, Wilshaw has experienced 'much redirection and reorganisation'. Profits should continue to improve, reaching pounds 1.9m this year followed by pounds 2.25m, Beeson says.