MARKET REPORT: Blue chips enjoy more rich fare at the banking feast

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The Independent Online
With Barclays offering another rich helping of profits, the stock market's banking feast rolled merrily on - allowing the clearers to prevent a blue chip retreat.

Abbey National, in the eyes of most still a building society but now claiming bank status, rose 16p to 601p. Standard Chartered, once seen as a sitting duck for Lloyds TSB, added 19p to 712p. Both are due to produce interim results today. Although, unlike Barclays, share buy backs are not expected the two should keep the banking bonanza on track. Abbey should produce profits of around pounds 560m against pounds 483m and Standard pounds 380m compared with pounds 319m.

Barclays' decision to accompany top of the range profits with a pounds 470m share buy back - its third - lifted its price 27.5p to 872.5p, a peak. It has splashed out a total of pounds 950m on its buyback hat trick.

Lloyds, which kicked off the banking season, rose 10.5p to 352p and National Westminster, figures last week, put on 10.5p to 652.5p. The Scottish banks joined the fun. Bank of Scotland, with the Standard Life share sale behind it, was 7.5p stronger at 247p and Royal Bank of Scotland 10.5p higher at 507.5p. But HSBC surrendered more than half of Monday's sharp gain scored in response to its results. The shares lost 26p to 1,138p.

The market had expected rich pickings in the banking profits season but, unless today's offerings disappoint, the bankers will, by and large, have exceeded most estimates.

The banking bonanza allowed blue chips to record their fifth consecutive gain. It was, however, a close run result. The FT-SE 100 index achieved its smallest possible gain, ending the session just 0.1 points higher at 3,788.4.

Turnover was inflated by the Barclays 55 million share buy back. The day's total emerged at 786.8 million. There was doubt about Monday's 1.2 billion turnover with the printed 666.9 million volume in Just, a little merchandising group, still to be confirmed. Just, with only 135 million shares in issue, firmed 0.25p to 4.5p.

Zeneca, where hopes of a buy back linger, eased 20p to 1,431p despite a 16 per cent profits gain. The shares have been riding high on take over hopes although chairman Sir David Barnes again poured scorn on the bid rumours. British Petroleum flared 7p to 603, a year's peak, following top of the range figures accompanied by a 25 per cent dividend increase.

Pearson put on another 15p to 645p in response to its results; Goldman Sachs has put a 747p target price on the shares. Filtronic, the mobile telephone parts group, recovered a little of its poise after disappointing figures, rallying 34p to 230p.

Sears, the retail group, was depressed by a 7.5 million cross at 96p, falling 2p to 97p. Christian Salvesen, the distribution group, was the major casualty, tumbling 46.5p to 304.5p after rejecting the tentative offer from Hays, up 3p at 435p.

The market immediately started the hunt for the next likely Hays target, alighting on Transport Development, up 2.5p to 205.5p and NFC, little changed at 195p. TD's interim figures are due today.

Lucas Industries, up 1p to 237p, was again busily traded. Hopes still linger that GKN will barge into the merger with Verity, the US car parts group. Today could be GKN's last chance to make a move when it announces interim figures.

Firecrest, the volatile Internet group, added 5p to 50p; stories went the rounds Lehman Brothers was about to become the company's stockbroker and it planned to float one of its off-shoots. Bakyrchik, seeking gold in the former Soviet Union, firmed 15p to 325p on hopes Indo China Goldfields would acquire a 26.5 per cent interest.

Boosey & Hawkes, the music group, swung 53p higher to 718p following its pounds 17.9m acquisition of Rico, a reed supplier.

That perennial takeover favourite, the timber group Meyer International, gained 10p to 372p with Barclays de Zoete Wedd said to have produced a buy circular.

Hansom, the taxi group which has failed to keep its shareholders' meters running since it arrived on AIM last year, gained 2p to 20p. It seems the boardroom battle is over with rebel shareholders winning the day. Jonathan Mervis, formerly chief executive of Unigroup, the air curtain group, has become chairman and Adrian Palmer managing director. Peter Jennings has quit as chairman and Ian Herman as an executive director.

The group was floated at 60p when it forecast year's profits of pounds 1.25m; in the event it produced a pounds 388,000 loss.

TAKING STOCK

o Action looks likely at Birkdale, the exhibition, marketing and public relations group. A pounds 2m cash-raising exercise is planned although terms have yet to be fixed. Chairman Kevin Morley, who has already loaned the group pounds 1m, would underwrite half the issue. Expansion, it would appear, could be directed at other marketing groups. After a sweeping reshaping Birkdale is making profits and a dividend is on the cards. Tax losses are pounds 6.6m. The shares held at 7.25p.

o More AIM recruits. Dealings are expected to start on Monday in Chemical Design Holdings, founded by two Oxford University chemists in 1983 to develop database software for the drugs industry. Profits were pounds 239,000 last year and there are hopes of pounds 600,000 this year. Durlacher placed shares at 110p.

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