Market Report: Another black Friday leaves punters' nerves in shreds

Here we go again - another fraught Friday as the stock market frets about New York.

It was nearly a repeat performance of Friday of last week when Footsie crashed 125.5, its biggest points fall since the 1987 crash.

At one time yesterday the index was off 110.9. Burdened by Wall Street's overnight fall it made a weak start and drifted gently lower until taking fright when the Dow Jones Average posted a 122.4 points drop in early trading.

Then New York seemed to settle down. And Footsie meekly followed. By the close the fall had been cut to 76.9 at 4,901.1.

Again the transatlantic retreats were not linked to a significant event. In London there was a little selling which, with the market reluctant to absorb stock ahead of a holiday weekend, had a snowball effect.

The market was operating on a skeleton workforce with the holiday season at its height. Many players did not appear, or left early, to lengthen their Bank Holiday.

And it is a time when heads of departments are often away, leaving their deputies in charge. Few number twos are prepared to bet against the herd and quickly fall into line with the general pattern of events.

So they go along with any big New York movement and when it falls blithely ignore the chance to buy what could be cheap stock.

The blizzard of interest in BT inflated volume. With the merger terms with MCI revised downwards to account for the US group's trading, BT jumped 23.5p to 436p. In two days, since it became apparent the deal could be repriced, the shares have dialled up 52.5p of the 121p lost since the merger came under threat.

Turnover was a remarkable 180.6 million, graphically illustrating the frantic endeavours of outmanoeuvred arbitrageurs to straighten their positions. The BT/MCI affair has cost them dear.

At one time there seemed little, if any, doubt that the way the arbs should play the deal was to go long on MCI and short on BT. The trading warning and the revised terms made nonsense of such a strategy.

Since hitting a 501.5p peak when excitement over the deal was running high dividends totalling 46.95p have been stripped from the shares.

Among blue chips hit by the Footsie collapse were SmithKine Beecham, suffering from claims of overcharging in the US, and Imperial Chemical Industries following negative comments from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. SB fell 60p to 1,074.5p and ICI 31.5p to 1,008p.

BSkyB, the satellite television station edged ahead 9.5p to 441p after Salomon Brothers moved from hold to buy and said the shares should be 486p. They were almost 700p last year.

VideoLogic jumped 10.5p to 64.5p after confirming its PowerVR chip had been chosen by Matrox, the world's largest maker of branded graphic cards. The chip is the product of a joint VideoLogic/NEC venture. It is used to quicken and enhance a computer's display of 3D images. Matrox has 28 per cent of the market for plug-in cards which add the technology to PCs.

Rolfe & Nolan, the computer group, hardened 5p to 317.5p after placing shares at 305p with institutions to raise pounds 1.9m. The cash is in anticipation of "signing a number of significant global contracts".

Appleyard, the garage group, reversed 10.5p to 63.5p as bid talks were called off but Bruntcliffe Aggregates at last collected a bid from Ennstone, improving 2.5p to 41.5p. The all-share offer has the support of the Bruntcliffe board.

Ennstone also placed shares, conditional on the offer going ahead, at 3p to raise pounds 2.5m.

Engineer Graystone fell 5p to 38.5p after chairman Dick Richardson resigned. A week ago the company said bid talks had ended.

Campbell & Armstrong, the specialist shopfitter, duly confirmed the arrival of SAS Group Services as a 10 per cent shareholder. The shares were sold by Undervalued Assets Trust. C&A edged ahead 0.25p to 5.75p.

TBI, the property and airports group, edged ahead 1p to 89.75p. Credit Lyonnais Laing lifted its asset valuation to 105p. The company has acquired Sandford Airport, used by thousands of Britons visiting Florida, and is in the running to buy Bristol Airport.

Richardsons Westgarth firmed 1p to 87.5p. Stockbroker Albert E Sharp believes the shares are a buy, trading at a 50 per cent discount to the engineering sector. It sees year's profits coming out at pounds 6.5m, followed by pounds 7.3m and then pounds 8.2m.

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