Market Report: Blue chips throw party as BT puts pounds 3bn in sharehol ders' pockets

Blue chips surged to within dialling distance of their record high, helped in no small part by the largess of BT, the telephone giant still attracting criticism over its botched MCI takeover.

As part of the MCI package BT, up 5.5p to 411p, handed out a 35p special dividend. It was paid yesterday, together with an increased 11.95p final. Through the two payments BT pumped more than pounds 3bn into shareholders' accounts.

Most of the cash found its way into already overflowing institutional coffers, increasing the pressure on reluctant fund managers to join the stock market spree.

Although blue chips were in rousing form there was no evidence they have moved back into the market to any significant extent. Turnover was again unexciting and although the market was buoyed by hopes of BT cash being returned to equities the gain was also due to a strong New York display and firm government stocks. Futures activity was also lively, showing at one time a 120-point premium to the cash market.

Footsie ended near its best of the day, up 51.9 points at 5,075.7. It was, as so often in the past, very much a blue-chips party with second- and third-liners limping behind.

Superstores led the charge. thanks to bullish comments from UBS. J Sainsbury, teaming up with British Airways to offer cut price air fares in its latest bid at customer titillation, rose 18p to 465.5p; Tesco 16p to 475.5p; Asda 4.75p to 159.75p and Safeway 10.5p to 395.5p.

UBS lifted its Sainsbury profits forecast pounds 30m to pounds 710m. The securities house believes the revival is coming through more quickly than anticipated

Granada, the leisure group at last selling its computer side, put on 25.5p to 843.5p. It is due to meet 60 analysts today and there are hopes it may have more disposals on offer. The computer services business has been sold to its management for pounds 89m, plus an pounds 8m inter-company dividend.

Railtrack was back on the up line, 21p to 854p, another high. Associated British Foods, still thought to nurse predatory instincts towards Tate & Lyle, rose 13.5p to 564p. T&L sweetened 8.5p to 429p.

Laura Ashley, due to produce threadbare figures on Thursday, jumped 10.5p to 64.5p in busy trading. The action immediately provoked speculation of takeover action. A US strike is the favourite guess.

A 4.75p gain to 190.25p by British Steel was thought to be due to US interest and Coats Viyella, the textile group, was also an overseas target, up 5p at 116p.

Biocompatibles International's hesitant rally came to an abrupt end - the shares fell 57.5p to 535p. And Menvier Swain, the electrical group, fell 61p to 217p after chairman Tony McCann alerted shareholders that first-half profits would be "significantly" down. Increased loses lowered Innovative Technologies 26p to 209p.

Intriguingly, glassmaker Pilkington was again heavily traded. It was the second-busiest share (after Shell) with Seaq putting turnover at more than 25 million with one 10.3 million deal going through at 150p. The price edged ahead 1.5p to 151.5p.

Chemical group British Vita improved 5p to 251.5p with a clutch of investment houses producing favourable comments. Dresdner Kleinwort Benson believes the shares are cheap and looks for profits of pounds 63m this year; followed by pounds 69m and then pounds 75m. Alexandra Workwear hardened 15p to 94p following an upbeat trading statement and Instem, a computer group, jumped 30p to 205p. Chairman David Gare is leading a bid at 210p. He has acquired a 36. 2 per cent interest and commands 50.9 per cent. But there are murmurings of discontent. Several stockbrokers believe the price is far too low and are planning to press for an improved offer.

Sanderson Electronics, the software group, strengthened 9p to 92p after chairman Paul Thompson nudged his stake to 12.6 per cent. He picked up stock from the Singapore government's pension funds which are bailing out of smaller companies (Sanderson is capitalised at around pounds 40m). Profits are expected to be pounds 7.5m against pounds 6.2m.

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