MARKET REPORT: Barclays shares bear the brunt of financials' mauling

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The Independent Online
Financial shares, which led this year's blue-chips upsurge, suffered a savage mauling with Barclays, the banking group, displaying the most pronounced scars, falling 52p to 1,135p.

The arrival of Halifax was more stunning than even the most optimistic forecasts. In huge turnover, the shares roared to 776p, finishing at 734.5p.

Turnover, including the auction contribution, was a staggering 647.6 million shares, more than half the stock market turnover.

In recent months financial shares in general and banking shares in particular have enjoyed an exhilarating run, largely anticipating the arrival of converting building societies and the Norwich Union insurance group.

In a bid to retain their weightings in the financial sector many institutions have piled into the available shares, helping fuel the upsurge.

On the day they were able for the first time to get their hands on Halifax the rest of the sector went into sharp reverse. Many market men took the view it was a long overdue strike by market-makers, anxious to get stock on board.

There was also evidence of selling by some institutions to help pay for their auction buying of Halifax. None picked up shares below 711p and the average auction price was 732.5p. The 23 per cent of the capital sold by former members was rather more than some expected and a few institutions were able to cover their shortterm requirements.

Still the general view was the financial fall had been overdone. Alliance & Leicester and Halifax, as well as Norwich Union, are set for Footsie membership and institutional demand for the threesome's shares will not evaporate overnight.

Suggestions the Footsie steering committee, perturbed by the growing financial influence, is looking at ways to reshape the index are going the rounds. At the moment the committee has little discretion; sheer size is the main criteria.

One idea is Footsie should mirror much more closely the old FT30 index, the main equities measurement until being replaced. When the FT30 ruled the roost the then selection committee could pick and choose the constituents to give the index what they considered a representative appeal.

Barclays did not suffer alone. Mercury Asset Management lost 94p to 1,344p; Legal & General 22.5p to 418.5p and Lloyds TSB 30.5p to 583.5p.

The alleged and now seemingly abandoned National Westminster Bank approach to the first building society to convert, Abbey National, was regarded as an unsettling influence. Abbey fell 33p to 847.5p and NatWest 20p to 724.5p.

The financial shake-out was largely responsible for Footsie's 58.5 points slump to 4,562.8, the first time it has fallen below 4,600 for nearly a month. It has lost 109.5 points in two trading days.

Dividend payments stripped 5.5 points from the calculation with National Power and PowerGen among the casualties. The selection of a Budget Day, 2 July, was another unsettling influence.

In the early Halifax euphoria it had looked as though Footsie could be in for another record run. In early trading the index was up 24.4 points but ran out of steam within minutes. By late afternoon if was off 71.8.

Ladbroke cantered through the gloom, gaining 9p to 239p to record the best blue chip advance. Turnover was brisk with hopes Hilton Hotels Corporation may be picking up its allotted 5 per cent interest. An analysts visit due tomorrow also stirred interest.

Scottish Media, confirming it is in talks to buy Grampian Television, rose 15p to 690p. Grampian jumped 40p to 302.5p. CE Health, the insurance broker, jumped 29.5p to 131.5p. Late on Friday it disclosed, after a sharp gain, a management buy-out was in the offing.

Ronson, the luxury goods group, slumped to a 14p low as guiding force Howard Hodgson quit and the group warned losses would be around pounds 2m against earlier indications of up to pounds 1m.

Geest, the convenience food group which remains independent despite talk it is a sitting duck for a takeover strike, fell 3p to 287.5p. It is meeting analysts and fund managers today and tomorrow.

Incepta, the marketing group, held at 19.75p. Talks to take over rival Lopex ended last week. But Incepta said it felt the "interests of Lopex shareholders have not been best served by the early termination of talks". Lopex, where Incepta has an 11 per cent stake, rose 1p to 33p.

Halifax was not the only newcomer. Topps Tiles, placed at 100p, closed at 111.5p.