Market Report: Footsie ends down after early surge

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER VOLATILE session, with the stock market torn between lower interest rate hopes and the damaging US hedge fund crisis.

In early trading it was no contest with the prospect of cheaper money dominating the proceedings and Footsie duly responded with a 107-point surge.

Then New York, up more than 250 points overnight, displayed nervousness over the hedge fund disaster and Footsie ended 47.1 down at 5,167.6. Trading was heavy, with turnover hitting 1.15 billion shares. Supporting shares made modest progress.

Financials were eroded by the pounds 2.6bn rescue of Long-Term Capital Management, run by a legendary Wall Street figure, John Merewether. Barclays, one of the banks offering support to LTCM, fell 35p to 1,065p. HSBC lost 33p to 1,102p and Lloyds TSB 20p to 690p.

Mortgage banks, which should be immune from such international strains, attempted to underline their resilience, with Halifax up 12.5p to 772p; Alliance & Leicester 20p to 869.5p and Northern Rock 19p to 519p.

The stock market uncertainty is weighing heavily on unit trust groups as fears grow that the equity turbulence will panic small holders into cashing in their chips. Perpetual crashed 485p to 2,662.5p; the price touched 4,537.5p in May. M&G fell 135p to 1,197.5p; it was 1,930p in May.

Dividend worries gripped Imperial Chemical Industries; the shares fell 37p to 450p, lowest for seven years. The group was hit last week by a Merrill Lynch profits downgrading. ICI should, many believe, consider a dividend cut but few expect it to repeat its action of nearly two decades ago when, horror of horrors, the chemical group reduced its payment.

Bass, the brewer, is another under intense pressure. The shares fell a further 42p to 636p as they were expelled from the Goldman Sachs European Portfolio, one of its investment yardsticks. There are fears of more downgradings following last week's profits warning. Early this year Bass was riding at 1,175p.

Asda, the superstores chain, was another under the downgrading whip. Credit Lyonnais took the axe to its forecasts, with analyst Paul Smiddy cutting this year by pounds 20m to pounds 410m and next by pounds 40m to pounds 430pm. There was also stories, subsequently denied, that the grocer was planning a revamp which would include stores closing for a day. The shares fell 7.5p to 167p.

Enterprise Oil flared 24.5p to 414.5p following a gas discovery off the west coast of Ireland; on Wednesday the shares rose 19.5p.

National Power, despite takeover talk, fell 20.5p to 560p, and PowerGen shaded 4p to 888p after agreeing to sell some generating capacity to get Westminster approval for its pounds 1.9bn East Midlands Electricity takeover.

Stagecoach reversed 17p to 1,162p after an investment meeting, and Robert Wiseman, the milk group, held at 192.5p following an analysts' get-together. Unigate softened 2.5p to 450.5p, with CSFB putting a 650p price tag on the shares.

Glaxo Wellcome, thought to be indulging in New York meetings, slipped 5p to 1,798p. Global tension was good for resource shares, with Billiton, 8p to 132p, and RioTinto, 25.5p to 691p, moving ahead. Rio, continuing its buy-back, picked up 1.4 million of its shares.

Centrica remained in form, putting on another 5.5p to 117p. Hopes of a lucrative Italian gas deal helped; so did stories that its move into electricity was going well.

Ladbroke lost 12p to 210p on the Coral situation, and Diageo's weak profits distillation left the shares 21p off at 497p, lowest since the merger.

Next, the fashion retailer, put on 15p to 414.5p as Tiger Management, the US fund manager where Baroness Thatcher is a consultant, took its stake to 11.2 per cent, buying 2.1 million shares; Dresdner Kleinwort Benson buy advice also helped.

Filofax jumped 62.5p to 202.5p as the US group Dayrunner mounted a 200p- a-share offer. There are hopes of a counter-offer.

Chiroscience hardened 19.5p to 243.5p following a reduced loss. Bill Gates and fellow Microsoft founder Paul Allen have, it appears, quietly sold their near 6 per cent shareholding.

Micro Focus, the computer group, rose 42,5p to 300p following completion of its takeover of the US Intersolv IT group. Presentations took place at DKB; the investment house put a 580p price tag on the shares. Warburg Dillon Read is thought to be preparing a review with a 700p target.

Rank, the leisure group, was heavily traded, with Seaq putting turnover at 15.2 million shares; the price rose 10.25p to 257.25p.

Wyevale Garden Centres held at 260.5p; Charterhouse Tilney rates the shares a buy. It expects profits of pounds 9.8m this year, with pounds 11,5m next. The group lifted its chain to 65 with the pounds 1.5m takeover of the Pilkington Garden Centre, near Warrington.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.15 billion


GILTS INDEX: 110.78 -0.23

THE BUILDING materials group Polypipe rose 8p to 108p as Charterhouse Tilney picked up 850,000 shares for clients. A year ago the price was 230p and it reached a 264p peak early last year. The investment house expects Polypipe's profits to climb from pounds 34.6m to pounds 37.5m this year and move to pounds 42.5m in the following year. It talks about the group's manufacturing efficiencies, new products and successful acquisitions.

SAVE, THE petrol retailer, rose 3p to 76.5p after the chairman, Robert Frost, exercised options at 71.98p to take his stake to 4.44 per cent.

The garage chain, which suffered badly in the forecourt price war, is expected to produce profits of around pounds 13m this year. Last year it managed pounds 7.3m; its best performance was in 1996, when it made pounds 10.4m. The shares were as high as 136p earlier in the summer.