Market Report: Blue chips bear brunt of the day's decline

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BLUE chips were tormented yesterday by a series of bearish developments, ranging from a dramatic profit downturn at the Bass brewing and hotels giant to poor German money supply figures.

The FT-SE 100 share index fell 27.6 points to 2,819.7, but the decline was futures-driven. Selling was not heavy although some big lines of stock were said to be on offer. Second liners, perhaps pointing to the underlying strength of the market, were firmer, with the FT-SE 250 index down only 2.2 at 3,149.

The continuing flow of cash calls - Compass Group and Saatchi and Saatchi scooped another pounds 159.8m - and new issues, as well as surprisingly poor retail sales, helped to erode confidence.

With the Bundesbank leaving its interest rates unchanged and the US announcing weaker-than-expected trade figures, the Danish referendum result was submerged in the gloom.

Oils were hit by a lower crude price and recurring worries about the worth of international brands was another influence that ensured a bleak session.

On such a day it was not surprising that gold glistened, with the bullion price at a 28-month high pulling gold shares higher. Other mining stocks advanced.

On the gold pitch Vaal Reefs led the pack. Waverley Mining, an investment trust specialising in gold shares, rose 3.5p to 21p.

The beerage was the worst performing sector. Bass slumped 50p to 483p, lowest for more than a year. Allied-Lyons, which duly announced its pounds 200 bond issue, retreated 12p to 531p, Scottish & Newcastle lost 9p to 454p and Whitbread 'A' fell 14p to 473p.

Among the regionals, Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries, reporting tomorrow, weakened 15p to 559p.

Stores drifted on the poor sales figures which, with Tuesday's factory output fall, have renewed doubts about the strength of the recovery. Storehouse, reporting year's figures today, dipped 4p to 201p. Profits of pounds 45m against pounds 15.8m are expected.

Downgradings took their toll. English China Clays fell 15p to 433p. NatWest Securities did the damage. Tougher competition in Europe prompted lowering of this year's estimate from pounds 100m to pounds 85m and next's from pounds 114m to pounds 96m. The ECC reduction and the deteriorating German outlook left Redland unwanted, down 17p at 494p.

Oils had other worries besides the falling crude price. British Petroleum was helped lower by US investment house Bear Stearns switching its recommendation from buy to hold. The shares fell 7.5p to 307.5p.

Enterprise Oil lost 16p to 459p on talk of a downgrade and Lasmo was caught by futures selling, losing 8p to 146p. US investment presentations are due to get under way soon.

Unilever remained weak, falling another 22p to 1,014p. Brand worries and the threatened price cuts from BSN, the French group, also made casualties of Cadbury Schweppes (11p to 436p) and Dalgety (6p to 431p). United Biscuits fell 7p to 407p.

Drug shares were mixed. Glaxo Holdings, down 12p at 640p, felt the impact of advice from Lehman Brothers to switch into Astra, the Swedish group. Wellcome gained 15p to 764p on the UK over-the- counter approval for Zovirax.

Property shares were helped by increased asset estimates from Smith New Court. British Land edged ahead 3p to 291p.

BTR improved 4p to 585p on an S G Warburg recommendation ahead of today's annual meeting. The securities house also tipped Iceland Frozen Foods, up 7p at 794p.

The rights duo was firm. Compass edged to 528p and Saatchi shaded 2p to 170p.

Tiphook was the day's outstanding performer, up 43p to 295p. The shares have had a difficult time. They were nearly 600p two years ago. Last month they slumped ahead of a profits warning.

Paul Ehrlichman, of US investment house Brandywine Asset Management, provoked the recovery when he forecast earnings would double in the next six to 12 months.

Brandywine could be responsible for the modest revival since the profit warning. It has apparently purchased more than one million Tiphook shares in the past two weeks. The container leasing group has a strong US following, with approaching 20 per cent of its shares in American hands.

GKN fell 7p to 437p as it felt the impact of an uninspiring shareholders' meeting and the German recession. Lucas Industries, also a German casualty, fell 3p to 134p.

Newcomer Break for the Border, a restaurant business, ended at 55p against a 48p placing price.

Leading shares struggled yesterday with the FT-SE 100 index down 27.6 points at 2,819.7. The FT-SE 250 index fell only 2.2 to 3,149. Turnover was 647.5 million with 28,436 bargains. The account ends tomorrow with settlement on 1 June. Government stocks were firm.

Tadpole Technology fell, despite a sharp profit upgrading by stockbroker Henry Cooke Lumsden, the firm that launched the shares at 65p. The price dipped 10p to 285p as analyst James Warhurst lifted next year's estimate from pounds 3.5m to pounds 5m and predicted between pounds 17m and pounds 20m for the following year. This year's estimate is held at pounds 1.3m. The shares are an 'absolute' buy, he said.

Heritage, a distributor of household goods to leading multiples, touched 60p. The shares ended at 57p, up 9p, best closing level for more than three years. Analyst enthusiasm was behind the progress, with profits of pounds 100,000 forecast for the year just ended. Losses have been suffered in the past three years. The group, which almost touched 200p in 1988, is expected to strengthen its management.

Premier Consolidated Oilfields, the North Sea explorer, has clinched an exclusive one-year deal to explore for oil in south-west China. The study, to be carried out with the Chinese national oil company, covers an area the size of Scotland. The deal also allows Premier to enter into a production- sharing agreement over all or part of the area. Premier shares fell 0.75p to 27p.