Market Report: Footsie dives as Far East worries return

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The Independent Online
Asia returned to haunt the stock market, sending Footsie tumbling 100.5 points to 5,870.2.

A tide of woe seemed to flow from the Far East. Worries of another wave of bad debts prompted Moody's, the credit agency, to cut its rating for five leading Japanese banks, and Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, warned that the former colony's economy was likely to shrink because of the Asian downturn. The threat to Indonesian contracts also hurt.

With the Hong Kong and Tokyo share markets weak, New York giving ground on the Pacific problems and markets like Moscow in free-fall, there was little incentive for buyers to struggle for stock.

But nevertheless they were out in some force. "The quality of the buying has been much higher than the selling", observed one market man.

The Moscow market, which has attracted considerable amounts of foreign cash, is creating increasing unease in some investment houses. In panicky trading it fell more than 7 per cent. Last week it suffered a 12 per cent fall.

Only 15 Footsie stocks managed to make progress. Halifax led the pack with a 48p jump to 923p.

The former building society was inspired by its signalled arrival tomorrow in the Morgan Stanley international index which should make the shares more attractive to US and European investors.

An alleged approach to Royal Bank of Scotland was another influence. Any such initiative by the cash-rich Halifax was construed as a management attempt to put the group in play. Royal Bank, it was said, rejected the Halifax overtures; its shares fell 5p to 1,025p.

Most financials, particularly those with Far Eastern associations, retreated. HSBC slumped 109p to 1,531p and Standard Chartered 40.5p to 772p.

Others lowered included Bank of Scotland and the yet-to be consummated merger - Commercial Union and General Accident.

Misys, the first computer group to achieve Footsie membership, was another blue chip to throw off the gloom clouds. It jumped 166p to 3,534p.

Blue Circle Industries, 7.75p to 388.75p, and Granada, 16p to 1,135p, strengthened.

The Footsie downturn was too much for the supporting indices. The mid and small cap measurements were hit hard. Marketing group Taylor Nelson, which has moved into the mid cap index, hardened 2.5p to 134.5p and Seton Healthcare, expected to join following the take over of Scholl, improved 50p to 822.5p as tracker funds looked for stock.

The Falkland Islands trio came under pressure. Suggestions that Amerada Hess, the US group, has not found commercial quantities of oil and gas off the Falklands did the damage. The Americans said they would report on their drilling by the end of this month.

When they have finished, the Borgny Dolphin rig will move to where the Lasmo-led consortium will search. Lasmo has a 62.5 per cent stake; Desire Petroleum 25 per cent and a Canadian group 12.5 per cent.

John Gilmour, analyst at Matheson Securities, is unruffled by the likelihood of the Amerada Hess drill being unsuccessful. "One must remember that in the North Sea 19 wells were drilled before a commercial discovery was made", he said.

Desire, which had led the Falklands charge, fell 67.5p to 377.5; Greenwich Resources lost 4.5p to 35.75p and Westmount 47.5p to 227.5p. Lasmo, which may have struck it rich in Pakistan, fell 2p to 295.5p.

Hillsdown Holdings was busily traded on the expected Unigate bid. The shares held at 198.5p. Break-up hopes lifted Booker 4p to 283.5p.

Cadbury Schweppes, meeting analysts next week, fell 25p to 932p, and Kingfisher, showing researchers Darty, its French electrical chain later this month, shaded 7p to 1,083p. Engineer BBA, with an investment meeting at Henderson Crosthwaite, hardened 4p to 531p.

Profits warnings took their toll. Hall Engineering slumped 57p to 200p; Whitecroft, an industrial group, 27.5p to 81p and engineer Crabtree 12p to 57.5p.

Engineer Powerscreen weakened 22p to 110.5p after reporting a pounds 65m loss. The Stock Exchange is said to be investigating dealings in the shares ahead of the figures. On Friday an institutional investor sold 670,000 shares well below the then market price.

Philippine Gold jumped 4p to 17.5p on a smattering of small buy orders with some suggesting an encouraging statement will be made.

PhoneLink, up 4.5p to 55p, said it was in talks which could lead to two acquisitions. Tom Hoskins, the little brewer and pub-owner, frothed 2.5p to 37.5p. Fairacres Group, running the Sandbanks ferry off Poole in Dorset, has acquired 27.42 per cent from former director Fred Ward.