Market Report: Dow prevents shares from falling on interest rate fears

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The Independent Online
Shares suffered another round of interest rate jitters. A bright start was killed as the strong inflation figures sounded the alarm that more rate increases could be on the way.

New York, however, came to the rescue. As the Dow Jones Average hit more peaks during London trading, falls were almost eliminated and Footsie ended only 0.8 points lower at 3,926.1. A strong gilts display contributed to the revival.

The stock market enjoyed a busy session, although the index gyrations made little contribution to the trading volume. It was, in fact, tax efficient bed-and-breakfast deals which lifted turnover comfortably above 1 billion shares.

The rush of late trades on Wednesday turned out after all to be the first leg of B&Bs and other deals were put in the frame yesterday.

Great Universal Stores was the best-performing blue chip as its pounds 1bn takeover of a US information services group was seen as the first, but decisive, step towards throwing off its reputation as a steady but dull performer. The shares, bumping along near their year's low, jumped 57.5p to 648p.

Sears, following its pledge to hand back cash to shareholders, was a shade easier at 88.5p.

It could have been wrong-guessing the GUS and Sears announcements which sent retailers House of Fraser and Next higher on Wednesday.

There has for long been a suspicion GUS planned a swoop on a domestic retailer with Next the favourite target. Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, GUS chairman, admitted that takeover talks had been held with Next, where he is also chairman.

BT, following its figures, gained 9p to 369.5p and British Gas, with NatWest Securities joining UBS in supporting the shares, flared 9p to 207.5p. The weird story of a bid from Shell continues to go the rounds.

ABN Amro Hoare Govett ruffled the Far Eastern banks, HSBC and Standard Chartered, by suggesting Barclays and National Westminster Bank were better bets. It lowered its HSBC forecast from pounds 4.9bn to pounds 4.6bn and Standard from pounds 930m to pounds 880m. Cobham, the aerospace group, climbed 9.5p to 594p following a lunch-time meeting with Henderson Crosthwaite and Reckitt & Colman firmed to 703p after a Panmure Gordon presentation.

British Borneo, the oil group, moved forward 11.5p to 620p; HSBC James Capel floated an 800p target price.

Amstrad enjoyed a late flurry, up 8p to 167.5p, and CMG, a computer group picked by UBS as one of its "six for success", gained 24p to 845.5p.

Psion, the hand-held computer maker, jumped 45p to 441.5p following a placing at 400p by Barclays de Zoete Wedd. The placing, raising pounds 14m, was pitched surprisingly close to the then ruling market price. BZW lifted its profit projection for next year by pounds 2m to pounds 24m.

To round off the computer action, Acorn Computer improved 11.5p to 213.5p. A tantalising sales announcement is expected at the pending Los Vegas IT fair; it is also thought Olivetti, the struggling Italian giant, has decided to cling on to its 31.2 per cent stake.

Full Circle, the old Atreus kitchen business now headed by Bill Rooney, former head of Spring Ram Corporation, added 2.25p to 17.75p. It was the second day running the shares, which had been bumping along at their year's low, attracted keen interest.

Ropner, the engineering and shipping group where Jacobs has acquired a stake and wants to bid, improved 11.5p to 118.5p. Its two market makers, Cazenove and Collins Stewart, have been stopped from trading in the shares and Winterflood Securities called in as sole market maker.

Cortecs International, the drugs group, continued to fail to respond to upbeat messages, easing to 189.5p. The shares were 418p in May. It is thought a fund, which could only invest in UK shares and did not realise Cortecs was Australian-based, is largely responsible for the recent weakness. The fund encountered difficulty unloading its stake and managed to unsettle the market in the process.

On Ofex there was again high excitement in Display IT Holdings. The shares gained a further 350p to 1,250p on talk of a US quote and the apparent success of its software package, which is seen as a powerful rival to Reuters City screens. It is thought 20 institutions are testing the company's service.

Elsewhere, Alpha Airports held at 113p as Mohamed Al Fayed confirmed his stake at 27.8 per cent and Exmoor Dual, an investment trust, jumped 3.5p to 10p on a bid approach.

Taking Stock

r Expect takeover action soon from Inn Business, the pubs chain which used to be United Breweries. It is thought to be about to swoop on one of the remaining unquoted pub businesses created in the upheaval of the Beer Orders. The group, with around 300 pubs, took over the Marr chain in February.

r From USM to Ofex is the unusual journey of hard-pressed Westminster Scaffolding. Shorn of its main assets it is hoping to fix up a deal to "restore value" for its 2,500 shareholders. The price ended at 0.25p.

r Watch GBE International, a process engineering group. Schroder Investment Management continues to shop for shares and now has 18 per cent.Prospects are thought to be good. The shares rose 3.5p to 48p.