Market report: Confidence returns to Footsie after US interest rate cut

TUMBLING INTEREST rates and a falling pound ensured the stock market ended the week on a confident note - although there was widespread disappointment that the Footsie advance was confined to a grudging 76.8 points at 5,133.1.

Still, blue chips have enjoyed a strong week after the turmoil of the bear run with the index jumping 309.7.

At one time yesterday Footsie was up 151 as the market gave a rapturous welcome to the surprise US rate cut. With sterling sharply down against the Dmark and a volatile options expiry comfortably accommodated, a record- breaking performance seemed in prospect.

Although trading was again heavy with turnover topping 1.1 billion shares, the market remained hesitant. There were worries that the cut indicated the American economy could be in poorer shape than thought and, perhaps, it would be wrong to assume the Monetary Policy Committee would feel obliged to follow the US lead.

True to form the Germans were quick to dampen hopes of an international round of cuts by saying there was no need for the Bundesbank to lower rates.

Defensive stocks, which displayed resilience during the market slide, continued to fall out of favour with electricity and water utilities suffering.

Waters leaked as the latest Ofwat directive about wastage weighed on sentiment with Thames Water down 12p at 992p.

Tesco and Stagecoach, also seen as safe havens, were among others to give ground with the superstores' chain off 1.5p at 167p and the bus and train operator 20p at 1,150p.

Conversely, the more battered and bruised casualties of the bear run led the advance.

Amvescap, the fund manager bedevilled by hedge fund worries, rose 39.75p to 394p and banker Barclays continued its revival with a 60p gain to 1,130p.

Reuters improved 13.5p to 432p. Profit downgradings are continuing to appear but there is a sneaking feeling that the rate cut could allow the information group to emerge from any financial recession relatively unscathed.

However, as Nicola Stewart, analyst at investment bank BT Alex.Brown, says: "Whether a major bank goes bust or not, all the group's customers will be scrutinising their costs."

Reed International's 5p fell to 487p, even though the rumoured profits warning failed to materialise. What was intended to be a reassuring investment presentation seemed to calm fears but comments about a possible advertising slowdown kept sentiment on a tight rein. The group is to make a trading update in December.

Spirits behemoth Diageo added 32p to 578p as SG Securities suggested cost savings could reach pounds 380m and profits, after dipping this year to pounds 1.8bn, could reach pounds 2.1bn and then pounds 2.45bn.

BT, 5p lower at 730p, was ruffled by Dresdner Kleinwort Benson's sell advice. At one time the shares were off 24p.

DKB feels investors should look at the "pure" mobile phone players, such as Vodafone. The investment house put a 1999 target of 630p on the shares of the telecom giant.

Smiths Industries, the aerospace group with well received results this week, fell 13p to 775p as Merrill Lynch turned cautious.

Supporting shares were in form. The mid cap index bounced 94.2 to 4,563.9 and the small cap 43.1 to 1,911.3. Government stocks achieved gains approaching three-quarters of a point.

The collapse of Essex Furniture sent ripples of unease through retailers with MFI, the furniture chain, off 1.5p at 36p. UNO lost 21.5p to 61.5p and ScS Upholstery 1.5p to 69p. But DFS Furniture rose 7.5p to 214p.

Tie Rack, in the red and axing its dividend, fell 2p to a 23.5p low, but many retailers were higher. Next gained 28,25p to 475.5p on the prospect of cheaper money.

Danka Business Systems held at 58.5p. The market is convinced a deeply discounted cash call is on the way. The hard pressed group has appointed Wasserstein Perella, the US investment bank, as its financial adviser to "evaluate strategic options".

Danka, after an impressive run, has been hit by problems integrating Eastman Kodak's distribution side into its operations. It was the biggest deal in Danka's 21-year history, doubling its size. The shares have crashed from 848p.

Incepta, the public relations group, shaded 0.25p to 18.75p as its cash call flopped with only 1.1 million shares taken up. The rest of the 58.6 million shares, which were offered through a placing and open offer, have been picked up by institutional shareholders at 21p.

Torotrak, the gear box maker demerged from BTG, at last moved out of low gear, gaining 11p to 98.5p. Stories went the rounds that the company was on the verge of announcing a licensing deal with General Motors for its transmission technology.

The group said in August that it was in an "advanced stage" of negotiating a deal with a major manufacturer. The shares are in need of an injection; they were demerged from BTG at around 100p in July.

Stentor, the Irish telecom group which ran into cash problems, doubled to 20p as it indicated it could be near to finalising its rescue cash- raising exercise.

In the summer the shares were suspended at 198p; they have since collapsed to 6.5p after returning to market.

The group, which has parted company with its finance director, Cormac Lucy, said it was "well advanced" raising the cash with one of its largest shareholders underwriting an issue of preferred shares.

The preferred shares will be convertible into 75 per cent of Stentor's enlarged capital.

Utilitec, an engineer, was the day's worst performer, falling 37.5 per cent to 25p. A Cohen, still in loss, was not far behind with the "A" shares of the engineering group down 35 per cent at 65p.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.1bn

SEAQ TRADES: 76,590

GILTS INDEX: n/a

WEEKS, a consultancy service supplying laboratory and testing for the construction and engineering industries, held at 3p.

Last week the group ruffled sentiment with a profits warning. But it is understood the shortfall will not be too significant with about pounds 650,000 likely against earlier estimates of up to pounds 750,000. The shares of the Maidstone-based business were placed on AIM in September last year at 5p. They have been as high as 7.5p.

SOME UNUSUAL companies inhabit Ofex, the fringe, lightly-regulated share market. Camco is one.

It operates in Kyrgyzstan, one of the former Soviet Union states where it has 69 per cent of Kasiet, a wool processing company. The group is investing heavily in Kasiet and points out that production has increased significantly since it raised its involvement in June. The shares arrived nearly a year ago at 70p; they are now 300p.

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