Market Report: Building shares at year's lows as gloom deepens

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THE BUILDERS and their suppliers came under renewed pressure yesterday with a particularly gloomy review from County Natwest adding to growing fears that interest rates could be forced higher.

The devastation in the sector was highlighted by Taylor Woodrow and Pilkington falling to new lows for the year.

Taylor Woodrow lost 5p to 70p and Pilks 6p to 107p. In the heady days before the recession began to demolish the building sector, the two former blue chips topped 300p.

Both groups have suffered a succession of profit downgradings. Taylor Woodrow, which made a pounds 2.7m loss last year, is, at best, expected to break even this year. Pilks could produce pounds 75m against a peak pounds 325.2m in 1989.

County fears the outlook for the sector is becoming even more bleak. There is a growing danger of more redundancies, plant closures, stock write-offs and asset write-downs. 'Profit expectations will come under renewed pressure in the third quarter and we expect shares to underperform in the short term.'

An investment conference on the building industry due to be held in the City today is expected to add to the depression, with leading groups pressing their case for lower interest rates.

Anglia Secure Homes, a sheltered homes builder, piled on the sector agony when it disclosed more losses and borrowings of more than pounds 30m, despite a cash injection led by Commercial Union, which has 12 per cent of the capital. The shares almost halved to 6.5p.

But the new issue flop Anglian Group made a better-than-expected debut. With 95 per cent left with the underwriters some had expected the window group's shares to fall to about 90p. Instead, they closed at 204p against a 210p issue price.

The rest of the market dillied and dallied ahead of today's crucial Bundesbank meeting, which will have an important influence on the level of UK rates.

The FT-SE share index ended 2.4 points higher at 2,486.4 after at one time achieving a 17.1 gain. But trading remained thin with special situations occasionally piercing the gloom.

British Petroleum was again briskly traded with the price edging further ahead to 210.5p, up 3p, as the debate about its disposal programme continued.

The generators also made headway as the long-awaited deal with British Coal was said to be imminent. National Power rose 3.5p to 251.5p and PowerGen 5p to 264p. Other electricals, and the water utilities, were helped by their dividend strength.

Thorn EMI dropped 16p to 783p on the growing Whitehall interest in compact disc margins.

Cadbury Schweppes jumped 11p to 492p in response to its trading partner, Coca-Cola, achieving a 20.4 per cent quarterly profit increase.

Whitbread 'A' dipped 4p to 438p as the bears got the upper hand. Earlier this week Kleinwort Benson suggested a switch into Whitbread from Scottish & Newcastle because of its recovery potential. But County talked of switching from Whitbread 'into brewers offering better growth outlook'. And it believes Scottish, down 2p to 443p, is worthy of attention.

The insurance group Legal & General was helped 8p higher to 354p as Hoare Govett and Carr Kitcat & Aitken made positive noises.

Imperial Chemical Industries perked up 11p to 1,152p despite stories that Moody's, the credit rating agency, planned to downgrade its rating on dollars 3bn long- term ICI debt and the hovering presence of the Goldman Sachs stake.

Tomkins, which produced an 18 per cent profit gain on Monday, ran into sell advice - from Yamaichi. It expects the shares to underperform until there are signs of an uplift in the economy. And Tomkins's big US exposure, says analyst Ian Rennardson, is beginning to create tax problems. Tomkins, with pounds 110m in the bank, needs a British acquisition but is having difficulty finding a suitable candidate. Profits this year are expected to be pounds 141m against pounds 132.1m. The shares fell 2p to 477p.

Publishing shares were little changed. Mirror Group Newspapers is due to return tomorrow and Eric de Bellaigue at Panmure Gordon expects an opening price of 40p to 45p against a 125p suspension level.

The conglomerate Wagon Industrial Holdings rose 12p to 438p with the stockbroker Albert E Sharp said to be picking up stock.

Vodafone edged up 2p to 311p encouraged by talk of investment presentations being lined up.

The financial group Templeton Galbraith & Hansberger rose 20p to 309p on takeover hopes.

Sir Ron Brierley, the New Zealand financier, continues to develop a taste for Gibbs Mew, the family-controlled, Salisbury- based brewer. His BIL Securities has lifted its stake to 19.7 per cent by buying 432,000 shares. Gibbs Mew, which like many smaller brewers has found trading difficult, is due to roll out its year's results next week. The shares held at 135p.

Odd goings-on at management consultant Alexander Proudfoot. A line of 1 million shares was crossed at 200p, sending the market price diving 41p to 194p. The shares were thought to come from an institution, not Thomas Huhn who retired as chief executive this week. To add to the misery James Capel cut its profit forecast from pounds 43m to pounds 38m. Last year's figure was pounds 48m.