Market Report: Blue chips' remarkable run carries Footsie to fresh heights

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The Independent Online
Blue chips' remarkable January advance continued taking Footsie to another peak as, for the first time, the index closed above 5,400 points, ending at 5,422.4, up 49.8.

It was, however, the same old story with financials again responsible for much of the action.

The stock market is convinced a mega financial take over bid is being prepared and until the parties emerge into the sunlight is happy to bank on almost any money share which moves.

Even so some of the stories are becoming increasingly bizarre. Yesterday's blockbuster was a bid by Halifax for, wait for it, the Standard Chartered banking group.

The sight of the homespun building society-cum-bank barging into the bazaar of the Far East would prompt most fund managers to throw up their hands in horror.

Yet there was some determined buying of Standard, leaving many convinced a predator could be prepared to take advantage of the collapse in the price since the Asian problems first appeared.

In the summer the shares touched 1,081.5p with many analysts forecasting further headway. They closed at 645p, up 35p.

Twelve years ago Standard saw off a hostile offer from Lloyds TSB when the so-called "white squires" came to its rescue.

Halifax ended up 30p at an 875p peak. At one time, before the Standard bid story took the edge off the advance, the price touched 890p. Hopes of a share buy back, strong trading figures and the Sunday opening experiment were positive influences as still underweight institutions sought stock.

Other financial shares in the limelight included Amvescap, the fund manager, 35p higher at 527p following the take over approach to the Henderson fund management group, and Sun Life & Provincial, the best of the insurers, up 27.75p to 582p.

Prudential Corporation put on 21p to 815p following the surprise decision to calculate its profits on an "achieved" basis. It restated profits since 1995.

Norwich Union was another in demand, hitting a 446.5p peak on talk of a corporate action with Lloyds, the current bidder for all seasons, in the frame.

Johnson Matthey, weak lately on Asian worries, jumped 37p to 514.5p. SBC Warburg feel the fall has been overdone and suggested a target price of 650p.

Allied Domecq was hit by doubts whether it will be able to achieve the much needed alliance with Canadian drinks giant, Seagram. Since the creation of Diageo Allied's drinks operation has looked vulnerable and in need of a partner. Allied fell 18p to 535p; Diageo, hoping to sell its famous Dewar's Scotch whisky brand by March, edged ahead 3p to 550p. Allied is a possible Dewar's buyer.

Reuters, the information group, was ruffled by the outbreak of legal hostilities in the US, falling 28p to 592p. Its Reuters Analytics off- shoot is being investigated to see if it "improperly obtained access to and used information from" its rival Bloomberg.

Railtrack was back on the express line, enjoying the discomfort of London & Continental Railways over its high speed rail link failure. Hopes Railtrack could benefit sent the shares 44p ahead to 935p.

A stronger crude price helped oils higher with British Petroleum managing a 20.5p gain to 804p. Firmer metal prices helped Billiton, up 10.5p to 150.5p; golds modest revival was reflected by gold shares.

Tie Rack, the specialist retailer, slumped 33.5p to 90.5p following a profits warning; Independent Energy, forecasting a break even result against earlier hopes of a pounds 1m profit, lost 11p to 137.5p.

Awaiting possible bid developments Energy Group added 9p to 748p and SmithKline Beecham 11.5p to 786p. Bensons Crisps, which rejected a 40 a share offer, hardened 2p to 40.5p.

Ewart, a property group, shaded to 77.5p after declaring it was in talks with various parties and urged shareholders to reject the offer from Dunloe House. Delyn was unmoved at 114.5p as the merchant banker Dawnay Day took its stake to 12.41 per cent, buying 275,000. Apollo Sales & Leisure, with 23.98 per cent, is pressing for the removal of the chairman, Paul Norman.

Another property group, Olives, gave up 2.5p to 33p after disclosing that talks with English & Overseas Properties had ended. It appeared Olives wanted a cash alternative which E&O would not provide.

Phytopharm, developing drugs from plants, jumped 16.5p to 65p with vague bid talk in the air. In 1996 the shares almost reached 300p.

Ionica gained 4p to 91p after underlining its strong cash position - pounds 170m in the bank - and undertaking a boardroom shuffle.