Market Report: Collapse could have been even worse

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The Independent Online
EQUITIES MELTED in the summertime heat wave. Footsie collapsed 154.8 points to 5,432.8 and if British Petroleum had not announced its huge merger with US group Amoco the fall could have been more than 250.

At one time BP was up 126p to 899p. But such was the doom and gloom in the stock market that the gain was slashed to a mere 22p at 795p by the close. BP fuelled much of the day's trading activity, easily topping the volume chart with, according to Seaq, nearly 132 million shares traded. Even so the absurdities of the order book managed to distort the final share price.

Most of the closing trades were comfortably above 800p. In fact a spaghetti- fingered trader managed to input a final trade of 7.5 - just what that meant is anybody's guess. It is, however, indicative of the nonsense which now masquerades as a definite dealing system and its impact on the final Footsie calculation.

The Footsie decline, if the Stock Exchange figures can be believed, represented the biggest fall since the Far Eastern crisis really started to trouble investors last year.

A slump of 157.3 occurred shortly after Chancellor Gordon Brown had introduced the market to new-style order driven trading in October. On what is now known as Brown Monday the index fell 60.1; the 157.3 decline occurred just a few days later. And in the following week Footsie at one time was off a record 457.9 before ending the session down 85.3 at 4,755.4.

The decline and subsequent rallies since the introduction of order-driven trading could lead a casual observer to believe that once again the market has over-reacted.

Those who have for long advocated the end of the bull market are no doubt at last counting their bedraggled chickens. But Footsie is still comfortably above its year's opening - 5,132.3 - and remains within hailing distance of the 1998 year-end level predicted in January by many strategists.

A long, hot summer had been widely expected. And of course August is a notoriously poor month for equities with most of the big investment hitters away on holiday.

The supporting indices, which displayed remarkable resilience in Monday's retreat, recorded understandable dismay. The mid cap index fell 102.4 to 5,202.3, lowest since February. The small cap index lost 37.9 to 2,367.7.

Footsie is now at its lowest since late January. Its decline yesterday resembled the snowball impact, with weak Asian markets, fears of a Russian meltdown and New York's continuing slide eroding sentiment. The market is becoming increasingly worried by the Russian economy and the decline in Japanese confidence. There are also fears the Chinese will be forced into a devaluation which could damage Hong Kong.

In the depressing atmosphere only 10 Footsie stocks made headway with Thames Water creeping on to the leader board with a mere 2p gain (0.18 per cent) gain to 1,120p following its cash handout to shareholders. The BP ripples with their implication of more, perhaps even bigger, oil deals, helped Lasmo put on 3.5p to 216p and BG (British Gas as was) 6p to 390p. But Shell, still smarting from the BT Alex.Brown "mistrust" comments fell a further 19.5p to 347.75p.

British Airways dived 48p to 509p. Neil Kinnock, the EU transport commissioner, has jumped on the Brussels bandwagon, advocating that BA should not be allowed to sell its Heathrow flight slots. The former Labour leader, who was prepared to back action deemed to be illegal under EU rules by Air France, thinks BA should give away its slots if it wants to forge an alliance with American Airlines.

British Steel fell a further 5.5p to 116.5p.

Emap, the publisher, continued to benefit from BT Alex.Brown support, gaining a further 7p to 1,156p but Business Post's fall from grace was evident by a 35p decline to 637.5p.

Financials were hard hit. Standard Chartered fell 44p to 593p.

Among small caps Arm, where Acorn Computer is expected to unload its 27.2 per cent stake, slumped 110p to 1,015p. Other recent high-flyers off balance included Colt Telecom, tumbling 205p to 2,607.5p and Admiral, the computer group, 77.5p to 1,242.5p.

MFI Furniture found yet another low. The shares in steady trading lost a further 4.5p to 46.5p. Another of the market's seeming perennial casualties, Pilkington, the glass-maker, fell to its lowest for six years, off 7.5p to 89p.

The milk scare lowered Express Dairies 10p to 144.5p and Unigate 13.5p to 581p. Robert Wiseman Dairies slipped 6p to 188.5p.

Dicom, the subject of a distressing trading announcement on Monday, rallied 18.5p to 123.5p and Dialog, saying it had won a five-year information deal with the BBC, added 12.5p to 185p.

Antonov gained its ninth licensing deal for its gearbox technology. This time the partner for its revolutionary development is Opel. Antonov's shares firmed 4p to 82p Shortly after the company's flotation in 1995 the shares hit 144p.



GILTS INDEX: n/a Galaxy Media held at 90p against a 195p peak. The group is being reshaped under its new chief executive, Graham Gutteridge, who is selling his television business, Sports News, to the company. Robert Stigwood, the Australian-born music impresario, and Christopher Moran, the entrepreneur, have quit. The Moran stake was placed by stockbroker Townsley at 76p. Interim figures were disappointing, with a pounds 210,000 loss.

Alexanders, the garage group where bid talks are in the air, could be near to giving up its independence. The company is headed by Aleksandra Clayton, daughter of the founder, and controlled through its ordinary shares. These have been active this week and yesterday rose a further 1.75p to 16.25p. The less powerful "A" shares gained 1.75p to 16.75p. Both cla sses below their 12-month peak of 24p.