Market Report: Budget fears take the wind out of Footsie record run

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The Independent Online
The Blair bloom has faded. Footsie has fallen for the past six sessions, losing 123.5 points as the strength ebbed from financials and the stock market started to fret abut the Labour government and its first Budget.

Although the index ended only 0.7 points lower yesterday it experienced another volatile session, giving up a 28.1 gain.

At their best level of the day blue chips did not look entirely confident. And when New York confounded the experts by opening sharply lower Footsie quickly went into ragged retreat.

Since Labour swept to power Footsie has enjoyed a remarkable run, even achieving its longest winning streak.

It started the Labour reign at 4,436, reaching a 4,693.9 closing peak and even breaking through 4,700 on occasions.

The deepening fear is that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, will heap more taxes on companies and discriminate against dividends. A pounds 3bn windfall tax is already discounted but a heavier windfall hit is not ruled out.

Among blue chips British Aerospace, a possible windfall casualty, climbed 35p to 1,252.5p as calls for a Eurofighter funding decision were heard in Germany, ahead of a meeting between Tony Blair and Helmut Kohl. And Mr Blair told Parliament the Government was doing "everything we can to speed the Eurofighter project up".

BT was another privatised group in form, gaining 7.5p to 446.5p. It was lifted by rumours it was about to swoop for a stake in Tele Danmark and Government indications the ban will be lifted on the provision of entertainment through the telephone network.

Vodafone was the best performing Footsie constituent, up 11p to 282.5p on its better-than-expected figures.

Banks had a more relaxed session with Barclays up 8.5p to 1,170p. Halifax rose 8.5p to 733p, although a string of small late trades went through at up to 775p. Volume was just over 9 million shares.

HSBC firmed to 1,870p with Charterhouse Tilney predicting the price could hit pounds 20 in the next three months.

But Standard Chartered fell 14.5p to 928p. SBC Warburg is expected to downgrade after meeting the company; in the meantime negative noises were thought to be coming from stockbroker Collins Stewart.

Insurances tended to give ground despite indications of a soaraway performance by Norwich Union when trading starts on Monday week.

City Index, the bookmaker, has seen prices of up to 360p projected, although the grey market level was around 350p at the close.

Norwich has put a price of 240p to 290p on its offer with a 25p discount for its members.

Frost, the petrol retailer, fell 29.5p to 90p after a subdued trading statement from chairman James Frost who blamed Esso and Tesco for a flare up in the forecourts price war.

De La Rue, the security printer, fell a further 22p to 399.5p, lowest since 1991, following the latest set of poor figures. The price touched 1,052p two years ago.

Scottish & Newcastle, expected to roll out profits of around pounds 380m, up from pounds 308m, next month was the weakest of the blue chips, tumbling 18.5p to 673.5p in a flat beer sector. Imperial Tobacco wheezed 8.5p higher to 380.5p on Goldman Sachs support.

Retailer Laura Ashley had another poor session. It gave up 5p to 81.5p, reflecting its uninspiring trading statement; Celltech, the drugs group, remained depressed after the scrapping of its septic shock treatment, dropping 17.5p to 302.5p.

Takeover moves provided some bright spots. TLS, the vehicle hire group, at last signalled the long mooted bid was near. The shares jumped 28p to 125p. GE Capital of the US is keen to strike although Goode Durrant may barge in. TLS named no names, contenting itself with a statement it had received an approach.

CNC Properties, up 2p at 78.5p, duly confirmed a bid approach and also failed to identify the potential buyer. Wiggins, up 0.25p to 9.5p, is rumoured to be the interested party. Atlas Converting jumped 160p to 807.5p as an 815p offer appeared and Shield Diagnostic rose 45p to 497.5p on talk of a British Biotech strike.

Life Numbers held at 9.25p. It is in talks which could produce a reverse takeover. Lynx, off 1.5p to 105.5p, said it could be the bidder for Kalamazoo Computer, down 5p at 87.5p.

Dominion Energy came to life, up 2.5p to 12p. The company, with interests in North America, is indirectly controlled by Middlesex, the metals group.