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Market Report: Budget should be good for shares

EQUITIES SHOULD enjoy Gordon Brown's Budget. Footsie edged forward 12 points as the Chancellor spoke and could move further ahead in the coming weeks.

At the stock market's 4.30 close, eight minutes before the end of the Budget speech, the index stood at 6,237.7, up 28.9.

With the Chancellor seemingly spraying cash around, consumer shares are expected to push ahead. Unchanged beer and spirit duties gave leading brewers late frothiness although the spirits giant Diageo was weighed down by anxiety over tomorrow's results, falling 9.5p to 724.5p.

The corporation tax cuts should also help sentiment. But Government stocks are likely to be subdued by the prospect of more issues to help fund Westminster policies and the reduced chance of more interest rate cuts, a trend that could prompt sterling to strengthen.

Dixons, the electrical retailer, was an early beneficiary of the consumer largess. The shares were riding high on the British Retail Consortium's positive comments about electrical sales. Then came the Budget's pounds 1.7bn "computers for all" plan. The shares rose 50p to 1,268p, another peak. The RM computer group was another to score, up 46p at 625p.

It was not universal cheer. The signalled probe into airport and water companies achieved the predictable reaction. The airport group BAA dropped 10.5p to 965p and water utilities were among the worst performers, giving up 3.6 per cent. Thames Water led the Footsie fallers with a 47p slip to 988p; United Utilities was not far behind, off 33p at 784.5p.

Tobacco shares, on the 17.5p hike in the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes, had a fag-end look. Gallaher lost 15.5p to 414.5p and Imperial Tobacco 4p to 718.5p. British American Tobacco lost 15p to 557.5p.

Normally investors sit on the sidelines on Budget day. Many did. But a big programme trade helped to swell share volume to nearly one billion.

Footsie had a seesaw session. In early trading it recorded a 78.5 gain. By early afternoon it had fallen into negative territory before recovering a little, with the help of New York, before the Chancellor started his address. Supporting shares had a firm time, offering further support to the theory that their long bear run may be over. The mid cap index rose 16.5 to 5,375.7 and the small cap added 7 to 2,322.8.

As on most Budget days, rumours of a major takeover bid went the rounds. A merger between the cable giants Cable & Wireless Communications and Telewest Communications was the hot story. C&WC rose 23p (after 36p) to 735p and Telewest 8.25p to 276p. Any deal would need the say-so of the telecom group Cable & Wireless, which has 53 per cent of C&WC.

Jockeying for Footsie membership went on apace, but some of the moves were lost in the late flurry. Energis, off 42.5p to 1,555p, seemed assured of its place in the charmed Footsie circle; so did the newcomer South African Breweries, up 22.75p at 507.75p.

Misys, the computer group, and the publisher Emap are other contenders. Tomkins, Williams and Safeway are likely casualties.

Action also erupted over mid cap places. Scapa, the chemical group, started the day deep in the danger zone. But in heavy trading it became an indirect beneficiary of the takeover bid for Albright & Wilson. The shares rose 7.5p to 108p as some institutions picked up shares and another withdrew a sale order, apparently taking the view that, with Albright likely to fall to a cash bid, they needed exposure to the chemical industry.

Albright rose 10.5p to 140p on expectations of a counter-bid. Some look for 180p a share. The bid should put Albright, if briefly, into the mid cap index; another expected to join is Waste Recycling.

BT, ahead of a Henderson Crosthwaite investment dinner, rose 14.5p to 1,073p. Hays, the business support group, gained 18.75p to 695.5p on CSFB support, but Great Universal Stores fell 34p to 792p as the investment house said sell. Arcadia retreated 13.5p to 204p on worries about possible profit downgradings.

Profit warnings flowed. Caradon fell 9p to 140p; the engineer Bullough 8p to 69.5p and Geo Interactive Media 4p to 49p. Corporate Services fell another 25p to 88p, thus ending any hopes of retaining its mid cap place, after Monday's profit warning.

Tullow Oil produced an upbeat report on its Egyptian operations but fell 10p to 46.5p. Cambridge Mineral Resources held at 5.5p following encouraging developments from exploration in the Falkland Islands with "visible" gold recovered from three areas.

Hunting improved 8.5p to 130p after clinching a pounds 50m Ministry of Defence contract for mobile biological detection systems.

Euro Sales Finance gained 35p to 345p, reflecting investment meetings. Metal Bulletin, the publisher, rose 25p to 1,350p after reporting little changed profits of pounds 6.8m (pounds 5.9m) and forecasting "infill" acquisitions.

SEAQ VOLUME: 992.9 million


GILTS INDEX: 112.5 -0.53

THE MARKET'S love affair with anything related to the Internet is underlined by the breathless display of Sports Internet.

On the second day of trading the shares surged 26.5p (after 50p) to 155p; they had arrived on the market at 55.5p. The company is highly ambitious, but it is still very much a blue-sky venture. It is looking for sports operations with Internet links, but it will have to run hard to justify its capitalisation of pounds 10.1m.

DRS DATA & Research firmed 1.75p to 13.75p as the market realised that its pounds 4.2m cash and near-cash was around the same as its capitalisation.

The optical scanner group provided further encouragement for its hard- pressed shareholders by slicing losses from pounds 826,000 to pounds 26,000. The shares have suffered an appalling run as profits were transformed into losses. They were at one time 120p. In August the price was down to 10p.