Market Report: Electricities offer the only glimmer of light

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The Independent Online
Even the widely signalled special 85p interim dividend from East Midlands Electricity failed to generate life into a sluggish stock market.

Shares displayed early enthusiasm but, in thin trading, it soon evaporated.

Electricities did, however, manage to retain at least some of their sparkle.

Many have already indulged in share buy-backs, but with their large armies of private shareholders they could come under pressure to adopt the East Midlands approach when next, possibly in a year's time, they have cash to spare.

East Midlands, ex the 85p handout, fell 45p to 666p. But Yorkshire, which has yet to undertake a buy-back and is the favourite to copy East Midlands, rose 29p to 715p; Southern gained 25p to 751p and Eastern, the first to accomplish a buy-back, 19p to 756p.

The rest of the market was again mesmerised by interest rates. US rates are expected to be forced higher, possibly this week. And with buyers again conspicuous by their absence the market is looking increasingly like a distressed area, with many investment houses failing to cover their costs.

Redundancy fears loom large. Although many houses are much leaner operations than they were at the time of the last (exceedingly savage) round of cuts, the present atmosphere is bound to force further job losses.

The present plight of the investment community was illustrated by yesterday's trading. It is estimated that the market needs a turnover of more than 500 million shares to break even. It managed only 456.3 million with a pathetically low 22,654 bargains recorded.

The banks provided early excitement on reports that Barclays and TSB planned share buy-backs.

But Barclays lost gains after it moved to cool speculation. It said a buy-back was one option being considered but there was 'nothing in the pipeline'. The shares closed at 572p. TSB, which said it had no immediate plans to buy-in shares, rose 3p to 224.5p.

The market's one and only big takeover bid has yet to turn into a battle, with General Electric Co still pondering whether to counter the British Aerospace offer for VSEL.

But many expect developments this week. GEC rose 1p to 281p and VSEL ended at 1,318p, up 8p, after 1,325p. BAe stuck at 470p.

Wellcome, down 24p at 627p, was hit by Goldman Sachs, which repeated its sell recommendation. Celltech, up 5p at 214p, was helped by a positive response to a presentation on its arthritis drug.

Reuters held at 459p ahead of a meeting with analysts on Friday. Rank Organisation, also due for analytical treatment on Friday, rose 2p to 415p.

BICC was a casualty of the Heathrow cave-in, where its Balfour Beatty subsidiary is the main contractor. The shares fell 13p to 333p as the market fretted about the setback's likely impact on contracts still being negotiated. Smith New Court expressed caution on the shares.

APV, the troubled engineering group, lost 6p to 61.5p. It denied talk it had breached its banking covenant.

Wolseley, the building materials group, ran into a little jittery selling in front of today's results, falling 19p to 733p. The expectation is around pounds 185m, up from pounds 121.1m.

Bula Resources returned from suspension at 5.75p but relapsed to 3.5p. It is acquiring 51p per cent of a Siberian oil group, Aki-Otyr. Three Russians will join its board and the Russian Corporation will increase its stake to 26 per cent. The deal is being financed by a placing and open offer.

Bristol Scotts, the leisure group, held at 200p as the Kerman family sold most of its shares; the rest of the Kerman interest is expected to go later this week.

Geest, the food group, rose 8p to 200p on suggestions of a break-up.

Whitchurch edged forward 1p to a 61p peak. The shares arrived on the market last week at 54.5p. They have the distinction of enjoying the shortest stay on the 4.2 market. The meat-processing group was launched on the backwater market in January, when it raised pounds 1.3m.

Waverley Mining continued its advance, helped by James Capel support. The shares rose 6p to 120p.

Filtronic Comtak, a mobile telephone supplier, dialled up impressive support when it made its debut yesterday. Placed at 105p, the shares closed at 113p despite the sale, through Panmure Gordon, of five million shares by two venture capitalist backers, Advent and Apax. Panmure sold the shares, representing 12 per cent of the capital, at about 110p.

Shares of little Ramco Oil Services, unchanged at 224p, could be back in the limelight today following the assurance from Russia that it has no objection to the giant Azerbaijan oil development. Ramco, because of its size, would be the leading beneficiary of the project but British Petroleum, up 2.5p to 410.5p, is the leader of the consortium.

After scoring a 20.1-point gain the FT-SE 100 index ended 3.7 down at 3,029.1; the supporting FT-SE 250 index lost 2.2 to 3,500.2. Government stocks were weak, with falls of up to half a point.

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