Market Report: Festive season unleashes attack of the bulls

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The Independent Online
THE 3,400 barrier was breached convincingly on Christmas Eve as shares continued their record- breaking run, with the FT-SE 100 index closing 15.8 points higher at 3,412.3, another seemingly inevitable peak.

In surprisingly brisk trading, for a shortened and traditionally merry session, shares quickly climbed and then went on to close at near their best level of the day.

On Thursday Footsie had managed to hold above 3,400 for just a few minutes.

Christmas Eve is often a token session, but the traders who put in an appearance found themselves unexpectedly busy dealing with an early rush of orders. Seaq put volume at almost 250 million shares.

Activity was not confined to the leaders. The supporting FT-SE 250 index was also in record-breaking form, up 10.4 points to 3,773.2. This was in sharp contrast to Christmas Eve in 1992, when the market opening was branded a waste of time and the FT-SE indices were much more subdued, prompting calls for a Christmas Eve shutdown.

CE Heath, the insurance broker, was the centre of attraction on Friday, jumping 23p to 413p on persistent speculation that Inchcape, the international trader, was about to pounce. The shares gained 36p in two days.

There is a deep suspicion that Inchcape, up 1p at 562p, is keen to increase its insurance role and that Heath may not be averse to linking with a bigger group. Vodafone, up 10.5p to 592.5p, was helped higher by talk of record Christmas sales. Retailers also scored from growing signs of a buying spree.

But drink shares, still smarting from the James Capel caution, failed to capture the Christmas spirit. Boddington Group, the pubs operator, held at 285p as Mercury Asset Management said it had lifted its stake by 2.2 million shares to 12.03 per cent.

The generators remained in outstanding form, with National Power surging 8p to 505p and PowerGen 5p to 567p.

Signet, the old Ratners, was unchanged at 23.5p as what appears to be a cat-and-mouse game continued between Goldman Sachs, the US investment house, and the South African entrepreneurs Julian Treger and Brian Myerson.

The South Africans have been busy building a preference stake as Goldman has seemed content to lighten its investment. The US house let it be known that it had sold another 84,000 shares, trimming its involvement to 25.51 per cent.

Second-line food retailers were strong. Takeover hopes lifted Wm Morrison Supermarkets 6p to 107p. Asda is the favourite to pounce.

Shoprite, a discounter, gained 4p to 190p as Smith New Court said buy, forecasting profits of pounds 9m this year and pounds 13m next. The group's chain of stores is expected to nearly double to 120 in the current year.

Coal Investments held at 29p.

Some of the shares unloaded on Thursday ended up with Stancroft Trust, the vehicle of Nicholas Berry, the financier. Stancroft now has 29.9 per cent.

Malcolm Edwards, the former commercial director of British Coal, is behind Coal Investments, which was created from the remains of Geevor, the once-famous Cornish tin miner. Mr Edwards intends to develop the group as a rounded coal operation, embracing mining and distribution in this country and possibly overseas.

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