Market Report: Disappointing gilts sale brings out profit-takers

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The Independent Online
THE disappointing gilts auction and the inevitable profit warnings cast a depressing shadow over shares, pushing the FT-SE 100 index down 7.9 points to 3,436.1.

There had been hopes that the pounds 2.75bn government stocks sale would be covered 1.5 times, perhaps much more.

So a mere 1.21 cover was not well received and set the tone for a subdued session with profit-takers holding the upper hand, but only just.

Wm Low, the Scottish supermarket chain, was one to produce a doleful trading statement. The shares, at one time down 31p, ended 17p lower at 174p. The Low comments came as a survey indicated Argyll, off 7p at 274p, was losing ground in Scotland to Asda, 0.5p firmer at 62.5p.

J Sainsbury, up 4p to 447p, is due to make a trading statement tomorrow. It is expected to be quite cheerful and the group could follow the Tesco example and cut back its store opening programme.

Hogg Group, the insurance broker, was another caught by profit warning flak. It blamed its US operations. At one time down 29p, the shares closed at 130p, off 22p.

Utilities were weak on dwindling hopes of an early interest rate cut, with the generators caught by a sudden twinge of unease over the long-running confrontation with Professor Stephen Littlechild, the regulator.

National Power fell 10p to 479p and PowerGen 9p to 556p. Current thinking is that the stand-off between the companies and the watchdog will come to a head next week, although the market's view of whether the generators will have to undergo a Monopolies and Mergers Commission investigation changes daily.

Elsewhere, in what was a yawn session, Sun Alliance stood out in a quiet composite insurance sector. But for once, talk of a French takeover bid did not provide the inspiration. Stockbroker James Capel captured that distinction. Apparently, in a survey to be published soon, it puts forward a profit forecast comfortably ahead of market estimates.

Capel is already on pounds 190m against a consensus of pounds 164m. According to market talk, Capel is thinking of lifting to pounds 260m. It was enough to send Sun 6p higher to 406p as Commercial Union retreated 10p to 682p.

Independent Insurance, at one time up 13p, closed 3p higher at 311p.

British Steel has become the subject of a two-way pull. Some analysts are bullish, encouraged by the improving outlook for the US steel industry.

But SG Warburg, fretting about the strains in the European steel structure, remains cautious. It has cut its 1995 profit forecast from pounds 350m to pounds 250m.

The shares recovered an early 2.5p fall to close 1p higher at 132.5p. The group was privatised at 125p a share five years ago.

MAI, the money broking and television group, shaded 2p to 299p as a 5 million line, thought to be from a US house, was placed; Travis Perkins, the building merchant, was also the subject of a 5 million placing, at 145p. The shares closed 12p lower at 249p.

Negative comments by UBS on the impact of currency movements on chemical profits hurt Imperial Chemical Industries and Courtaulds.

UBS estimates that a 10 per cent sterling gain against the mark reduces ICI's profits by pounds 50m and Courtaulds by pounds 5m. ICI fell 6p to 774p and Courtaulds 8p to 510p.

BAT Industries showed little reaction to the latest poor trading figures from Philip Morris, the US food and tobacco giant. The shares lost 2p to 519p.

Greenalls, the pubs chain, continued to suffer from recent take- profits advice, losing 13p to 470p.

Domino Printing Sciences gained a further 32p to 420p in response to its figures and a 'considerable upside' comment from NatWest Securities. Shandwick, the public relations group, was another up on results, 8p to 43.5p.

Tadpole Technology dipped 7p to 277p as Jeremy Woan, former Hoare Govett analyst, quit as a non-executive director.

John Waddington, the games group, lost further ground on the investigation into two of its US offshoots. The shares dropped 9.5p to 249p, a two-day fall of 28.5p.

Invesco, the fund manager, gained 11p to 229p on the move to settle with the Mirror Group Newspapers pensioners. Govett, which has often appeared to limp behind the rest of the fund management brigade, rose 15p to 424p.

Beauford, the heavy engineering group, fell 1.75p to 2.75p on its restructuring. Stockbroker Beeson Gregory believes the rescue rights are worth taking up.

It expects 'progressive benefits from recovering industrial investment and the removal of doubt concerning the group's survival'.

Analyst Pat McHugh is looking for profits of pounds 950,000 against an estimated loss of pounds 7.1m last year.

The search for little property plays with hoped-for recovery potential moved to Waterglade International, which edged ahead a further 0.5p to 4.5p.

Excitement is growing over next week's stock market return by Berisford International. The shares were suspended at 128p while it took over the Magnet kitchens group for what, most observers believe, was a remarkably good price. There is talk of a 200p return. Andrew Hollins, at Kleinwort Benson, expects rapid profits growth and declares the shares 'a buy up to 240p'.

High-flying Essex Furniture has lost Williams de Broe, its stockbroker and financial adviser. The resignation was announced after the market closed with Essex 1p lower at 263p. One explanation could be that Essex has held 'beauty parades' to add to its broking muscle. It is thought to have talked to Panmure Gordon, Peel Hunt and Granville Davies.

The FT-SE 100 index dipped 7.9 points to 3,436.1 and the FT-SE 250 index 11.4 to 4,079.7. Turnover was 829.3 million shares from 35,724 bargains. The account ends tomorrow; settlement is on 7 February. Gilts fell by up to half a point on the auction.

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