Market Report: Builders miss out on fragile tail-end rally

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The Independent Online
COUNTY NatWest, the securities house, demolished building and building materials shares yesterday. A fragile tail-end rally, which allowed the FT-SE share index to claim a 4-point gain, missed the building sectors as County said they would 'show further underperformance'.

County expects 18 of the 31 companies it monitors will be forced to cut dividends and says it has 'adopted a short-term sell stance' on building stocks.

With Panmure Gordon this week raising doubts about Redland's ability to hold next year's dividend the sectors looked even more forlorn than usual.

Redland fell 20p to 354p, a year's low, and Rugby Group 7p to 168p. Amec dipped 3p to 68p and Persimmon 8p to 181p. Tarmac, with Minorco takeover rumours fading, lost 4p to 67p.

The heavily depressed sector did produce a few gains - Costain Group put on 1p to 23p and Lilley 0.5p to 9.5p.

Besides the bearish County approach, building shares, like the rest of the stock market, had to contend with the growing conviction interest rates will be forced higher by at least a point.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's breakfast-time message, seen as ruling out all measures with the exception of an interest rate increase, did briefly lighten the market gloom. Then shares went into their familiar drifting routine as the Bank of England indulged in a massive sterling support operation. Activity in the futures market, a slight improvement by the pound and a surprisingly firm New York created the late flurry, which continued into after hours trading.

But again the movements were largely due to cautious market makers. Trading volume was unimpressive, with dealers moaning about a buyers' and sellers' strike.

Government stocks were active. At one time they were down more than 11 4 points on what were regarded as disappointing bids for the new pounds 2.5bn Treasury stock.

The auction was covered 1.24 times against the 1.7 enjoyed by previous issues. At the close falls were cut to about half a point.

Ladbroke Group had an active session, at one time falling 7p to 126p. The shares closed at 130p. Interim figures are due next week. The group, already deep into US betting, appears to have desires to take on New York's off-course betting which, it is thought, could become available.

Drink shares remained unsettled by Grand Metropolitan's profit warning. Grand Met recovered a little to 384p. But Allied- Lyons fell 4p to 556p. Whitbread 'A' was at one time down 5p at 372p as Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull made bearish noises. The shares ended at 376p.

Gibbs Mew gave up 10p of the advance inspired by the hostile Brierley Investments offer, ending at 288p.

Strauss is keen on General Electric Co, forecasting the shares will outperform. Including cash held by associates, GEC's cash pile is put at 54p a share. The price hardened 0.5p to 227p.

TSB Group enlivened the banking sector with a late 4p spurt to 130p as takeover chatter resurfaced. HSBC, the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation, rose 18p to 324p, prompted by a positive analysts meeting following the results.

Carlton Communications held at 541p. Barclays de Zoete Wedd trimmed its forecasts from pounds 103.5m to pounds 101m and pounds 128m to pounds 123m. US dollar weakness prompted the revisions.

Wellcome fell 10p to 782p on stories a US anti-Aids drug, currently only used in conjunction with Retrovir, is about to get stand-alone approval.

British Steel weakened 0.5p to 48.5p. Two large bed and breakfast deals were recorded. The engineer Siebe dipped 17p to 568p as 1.5 million shares sought a home.

Utilities continued to draw strength. Reflecting results News International jumped 23p to 448p and WH Smith 15p to 376p.

A string of deals were declared as a French-owned life insurer, General Portfolio, re-arranged its investments. Shares held in companies with a capitalisation of more than pounds 100m will in future be managed in-house and not by the Framlington investment group. Investments in smaller companies, such as the water purification group Protean, are being moved into Framlington unit trusts. Protean held at 110p.

Framlington, in an unrelated deal, cut its stake in Aerospace Engineering by 840,000 shares to 9.47 per cent. The price fell 1p to 8p.

Halls Homes & Gardens had a difficult session as figures were postponed. The shares fell 2p to 4p. After the market closed the packaging group Wentworth International warned that provisions might have to be made and a dividend was unlikely.

The flow of local, former statutory water companies on to the stock market continues. Latest to reveal their intention to obtain a quotation are Bournemouth & District Water and West Hampshire Water. Dealings in the shares are due to start next month. Bristol and South Staffordshire have led the locals, almost doubling from their flotation price.

Acorn Computers rose a further 4p to 41p yesterday. The shares have climbed from 6p this year. A trade presentation, due to be held in London today, has caused the latest excitement. It is rumoured that a new range of computers will be unveiled. Some believe Acorn, controlled by Olivetti of Italy, intends to launch combined educational and games products.