Market Report: Footsie does a U-turn after hitting record

THE INCREASING volatility of the stock market was underlined as two-thirds of Wednesday's dramatic gain was wiped out.

Footsie, weighed down by sudden weakness in New York, faltered 101.1 points to 6,206.5 in another session of heavy trading.

Before the sellers won the argument there was just a tiny romp for the bulls to enjoy. In the first 30 minutes of trading Footsie did achieve another record - hitting 6,319.8, its highest-ever trading level.

But from then on it was all downhill as the three-day winning run came to an abrupt end. At its worst the index was off 114.2, taking it below 6,200.

Supporting shares ignored the slide - just. The mid and small cap indices edged ahead, helped by a fairly resilient display by engineers.

BTR Siebe, the recent engineering creation, led the Footsie leader board, up 10p at 265.75p, and provided the inspiration for others in the industry. It was helped along by positive analytical comments. Merrill Lynch was said to be one of the investment houses drawing attention to the new metal- bashing giant.

Orange, after an early buzz following its results, had to contend with a 50 million share sale by its major shareholder, Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong group. Through Goldman Sachs it cut its holding to 44.8 per cent. The shares were sold on to leading investors at 865p. They closed 51.5p off at 907p.

Legal & General tumbled 109.5p to 798p as a 13 per cent profits rise failed to satisfy worries that the insurer was overvalued. Colt Telecom, planning to raise pounds 500m, lost 131p to 1,145.5p, as losses widened to pounds 55.6m.

British Aerospace was another ruffled by results, falling 21p to 420p.

Supermarket chains staged some recovery from their price-war retreat. Asda put on 5.75p to 154p and Tesco 2.25p to 175p. Marks & Spencer's dramatic shake-up produced a further advance, 13.25p to 415p.

Debenhams, the department stores chain, continued to be one of the best performing retail shares, gaining a further 20.5p to 434p, a peak. The shares have had an erratic time since the Arcadia demerger but Debenhams has indicated it has weathered the retail downturn better than many.

Its last trading statement said underlying sales had fallen 2.5 per cent, a much better performance than had been expected.

There is also vague talk of corporate action. As a stand-alone department store chain, Debenhams would be a much more impressive retail capture than the ragbag of interests grouped together under the old Burton banner.

MFI, the furniture chain, remained under pressure, off 1p at 32.5p, as CSFB slashed its profit estimates. The investment house is believed to have lowered its forecast for the year ending April to pounds 1.5m from pounds 17m; next year's figure has been cut by pounds 10m to pounds 27m.

Glaxo Wellcome fell 82p to 2,066p. The shares were under the weather after an advisory panel to the American Food and Drug Administration said the group's flu treatment, Relenza, should not be approved.

Most analysts were unruffled. The drug has already won approval elsewhere and is likely to be resubmitted to the US authorities.

Smith & Nephew, the health group, firmed 2.75p to 183p on results and its new "painless" medical sticking plaster.

Allied Domecq, up 7p to 478.5p, and Bass, 25p higher at 837.5p, drew strength from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson support. Bass, as well as Ladbroke, 2.75p firmer at 290.75p, and Millennium & Copthorne, 18.5p to 513.5p, were helped by increasing interest in US hotels.

Compass, the contract caterer, hardened 26.5p to 769.5p following an upbeat trading statement.

Railtrack, under pressure ahead of the rail summit, rebounded 49p to 1,475p after forecasting 3 per cent passenger growth, representing pounds 4.6bn a year.

The commodity broker ED&F Man firmed 8.5p to 302.5p following indications that it had held investment briefings. Ashtead, the plant hire group, gained 5.5p to 172.5p after a pounds 20.5m acquisition and a pounds 30m share placing.

Game, the computer game retailer, rose a further 12p to 142.5p as its rival Electronic Boutique hovered with bid aspirations. Dixons, up a further 22.5p to a new 1,185,5p peak on its suspected Bertelsmann book deal, is thought to be weighing up the possibilities of getting involved in any bid action.

Devro, the sausage skin maker, sizzled a further 14p to 178.5p as speculation of bid action returned. But some recent bid hopefuls fell back on the failure of any corporate activity to materialise.

Greenalls, the hotels and pub chain, slipped 10.5p to 376.5p, and First Leisure Corporation 7.5p to 207p. Rank, where there has been talk of a break-up bid, fell 7p to 230p.

But Enterprise Oil, still exploring merger possibilities with Lasmo, jumped 13p to 253p. Lasmo added 6.25p to 114.75p. Its chief executive Joe Darby believes he will be in a position to make a statement next month about the group's future.

Besides talking to Enterprise, which made an unsuccessful bid four years ago, Lasmo is negotiating with European groups, thought to be Repsol of Spain and ENI of Italy, as well as US oil companies.

The Enterprise/Lasmo clash was a particularly bruising battle with Lasmo, the underdog when hostilities started, growing more powerful as the battle continued.

Old English Pub Co, the chain of country hotels and inns which was hit by a profits warning, climbed 15p from its 12 month low to 127.5p. Last year the shares hit a 384p peak.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.1 billion

SEAQ TRADES: 88,286

GILTS INDEX: 113.9 -1.07

IS A bidder stalking Church & Co, the up-market shoe maker and retailer? The shares, a narrow market, rose 33.5p to 375p on rumours that the family-controlled and run Northampton-based group had received an approach worth more than 500p a share. Church, started in 1873, has survived the rigours of the shoe industry better than most, with profits moving ahead to pounds 5.8m in 1997. The shares peaked at 429p last spring.

GEI INTERNATIONAL firmed 3p to 37.5p as Govett Strategic Investment Trust declared a 4.1 per cent stake. Govett's holding aroused thoughts that the packaging machinery maker could attract a US bid following the interest in packaging group Field. GEI has spent heavily on plant and machinery. Capitalised at only pounds 14m, it commanded sales of pounds 77.7m. Profits were pounds 2.9m and should be higher this year.

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