Market Report: BT leads the way as Footsie continues its spectacular advance

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The Independent Online
In just four trading days Footsie has soared 251.6 points, probably the most spectacular advance ever witnessed.

Yesterday, with BT leading the charge, the index rose 72.9 to 5,317.1, yet another peak. Trading was heavy with Seaq turnover nearly hitting 1.2 billion shares. BT and Northern Rock were responsible for around one- third of the action. Supporting indices made modest headway but it was very much a blue-chip party with, it seemed, more fund managers reluctantly stirring from the sidelines.

The latest upsurge occurred after Gartmore, the National Westminster Bank subsidiary with pounds 47bn under management, disclosed it too was piling up cash, raising its liquidity to 17 per cent. It now rivals PDFM as the stock market's biggest bear.

There is no doubt the madcap autumnal stampede has caught many professionals on the hop. One described yesterday's display as "manic" and many likened the WorldCom counter-bid for MCI to the excesses of the last bull market when Saatchi & Saatchi attempted to win Midland Bank and little engineer Benlox audaciously bid for Storehouse.

Still there is a strong view that even at its seemingly heady level the market is still not overvalued and there is room for further headway.

The emergence of the new bid for MCI had BT shares buzzing, largely on hopes it will be forced to return more cash to shareholders via another special dividend.

At one time up 46p they closed 32.5p higher at 442p. Seaq put turnover at a remarkable 159.4 million, indicating arbitrageurs were still playing heavily.

If BT is tempted to walk away from MCI the market believes it would renew its efforts to take over Cable & Wireless. Its earlier attempts failed but did dial C&W to more than 600p. The shares jumped 33p to 560.5p on the prospect of renewed attention.

Others to enjoy the BT buzz included Orange, up 9p to 230.5p, and Vodafone, claiming more than 4.6 million customers, 13.5p at 346p.

Colt Telecom, offering cut-price services, was another enjoying a busy line, drawing additional support from regulatory moves to increase competition. The shares rose 36p to 506.5p. They were sold at 275p in December.

Besides the telecom excitement the market drew strength from a rampant performance by Government stocks, higher by up to pounds 1.25, and a strong New York display with the Dow Jones Average topping 8,000 points.

Shell had another active session with NatWest Securities drawing attention to its lack of sparkle compared with British Petroleum; the shares flared 23p to 476.5p.

Northern Rock could not have chosen a better day for its debut. In heavy trading it ended at 463p against a 451.9p auction price.

Other financials were hitting the high spots with Barclays up 47p to 1,721.5p and National Westminster Bank, selling its Australian fund management side, 16p to 952.5p. Leading retailers, such as Kingfisher and Marks & Spencer, were in the money on hopes they will benefit from the Northern Rock windfall.

Supermarkets, however, were in retreat and after its recent run Storehouse succumbed to profit taking.

Cookson, the industrial materials group, was firm at 252p after a dinner hosted by Henderson Crosthwaite; Dairy Crest, meeting analysts, held at 275p.

Viglen, the Amstrad spin-off, jumped 16p to 79p on its Microsoft agreement and Trace Computers firmed to 71.5p as MMT Computers threateningly lifted its stake to just over 10 per cent. Circuit board maker Prestwick hardened 2p to 32p after aggressive mini-conglomerate TT moved to 8.43 per cent.

Ennex International gained 2p to 38p following encouraging tests on its zinc project in Kazakstan.

Johnston, a builder, fell 22.5p to 302.5p after a profits downturn. London & Edinburgh Publishing managed a 0.5p gain to 5.5p; it reported an interim loss.

Graystone, an engineer, held at 40.5p. Melton Medes, the vehicle of entrepreneur Nathu Puri, has acquired 500,000 shares and now has 4.95 per cent. Standford Rook, after Tuesday's collapse, was up 25p at 175p.