Market Report: Brisk consumer spending makes retailers feel good

Whether the feel-good factor has filtered through to the high street may still be a subject for debate but there is growing evidence retailers are feeling much better in the stock market.

Their efforts helped contain an FT-SE 100 index slide to 8.1 points with Dixons the bestperforming blue chip with a 14p gain to 548p, a 12-month high.

There have been some encouraging high street statistics recently but it was a more down to earth report, from a leading retailer, that fuelled the latest interest.

The John Lewis partnership, which runs department stores and the Waitrose supermarket chain, said its latest weekly numbers showed department store sales up 21.4 per cent with Waitrose achieving a 21.2 per cent advance.

The recent interest rate cut and hopes of another within a few weeks and an upbeat Confederation of British Industry retail report have also offered evidence the high street revival may have more substance than earlier flurries.

Marks & Spencer was another riding at a high, up 11.5p to 486p; Kingfisher rose 13p to 640p and Argos 10p to 767p.

The rest of the market was inclined to dilly and dally with the turmoil in the metal market creating anxiety, although the ghost of Nick Leeson is unlikely to have much direct influence on shares.

However, some are in the firing line. RTZ, the mining group which has felt the vibrations of the volatile copper price, was little changed at 973p but Delta, citing the copper price as a factor, warned half-year profits would be "appreciably below" the pounds 29m in last year's second half. It is taking a pounds 3m hit from the fall in copper prices.

With year's forecasts slashed - Credit Lyonnais Laing has cut from pounds 74m to pounds 60m - the shares fell 33p to 360p.

Worries about the Russian election was an inhibiting influence and the latest outbreak of hostilities among the Tories also dampened sentiment. Siebe, the engineer, edged ahead 4p to 888p. It is hosting an analysts' presentation at its Foxboro plant in the US next week with about 40 researchers US expected.

Vickers put on 7p to 260p following its dockland investment presentation late on Thursday. The medical division appears buoyant and Rolls-Royce cars achieved better-than-forecast first-half sales. Cookson, the industrial materials group, remained under pressure following profit downgradings, falling a further 12p to 295p.

The National Westminster Bank's sale of its 17.7 per cent shareholding in 3i, the investment group, went smoothly with the shares going out, mainly to institutions, at 445p, a little higher than expected. The sale raised pounds 464m for NatWest, still cash-rich despite recent expansion such as the pounds 385m splash for a US broker. 3i ended at 457p, up 10p.

Manchester Utd gained 6p to 465p. Martin Edwards, chief executive, has sold another block of shares, 2.23 million, at 450p and a children's settlement has unloaded 1.5 million at the same price. The sales, representing 6 per cent of the football club's capital, reduce the Edwards holding to 17.16 per cent. Mr Edwards has undertaken not to dispose of any more shares for a year. In April he lightened the Edwards family interests, raising pounds 4.4m through share sales. He has pulled in more than pounds 20m through the two disposals.

Capital Radio shaded 3p to 679p as French group Havas placed 13.8 million shares (19 per cent) at 675p with institutions. Real Time Control, the computer group, had another difficult session, falling 19p to 194p.

Newcomer Theo Fennell, a jeweller, showed a little sparkle, ending at 123p against a 118p placing; the price touched 137.5p.

Renewed talk of a positive drugs announcement lifted ML Laboratories 14p to 448p but British Biotech slipped 52p to 2,698p.

The surprise departure of its chief executive left Bakyrchik 21p lower at 464p.

Magnum Power, which has developed an uninterruptible power supply unit for computers, fell 9p to 94p; there was talk a touchy relationship had developed between the company and its stockbroker, Henry Cooke Lumsden.

MAID, the on-line information group, improved 7p to 320p, after 329p. In the past week it has attracted a round of analytical support with Merrill Lynch describing the company as "one of the best Internet plays on the market".

Williams de Broe has also produced a buy recommendation and two US houses, Bear Stearns and Van Kasper, made positive noises. The shares floated at 110p two years ago.

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