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Market report: Footsie falls but there's no panic

EQUITIES ENDED a difficult session battered and bruised but unbowed. Footsie crashed 103.6 points to 5,632.5; at one time it was off 164.7.

It was a predictable response to New York's overnight slump. Market-makers, often woefully short of stock, had plenty of time to adjust their positions and were happy to call the stock market lower as soon as trading got under way at the more refined time of 9.0am.

However, there was no evidence of panicky selling; indeed selling was relatively light, with bargain-hunters helping to absorb much of the pressure.

Still, Footsie has had a ragged time since hitting a peak of 6,179 last month. It is now at its lowest since February. The dramatic change in sentiment reflects the deepening impact of the Clinton crisis, growing worries about the Far East and the sudden evaporation of domestic confidence.

Few expect the nine wise souls on the Monetary Policy Committee to increase interest rates today. But the nagging uncertainty that they might decide to confound the nation is adding to the market's unease.

The MPC, with its narrow inflation brief, has never rested easily with the market, which has witnessed the strong pound devastate currency-sensitive shares. Consequently it remains suspicious of the MPC's deliberations and decisions.

Second and third-line shares, which largely missed Tuesday's slide, this time took the full force of the battering. The mid cap index crashed 123.4 to 5,321.5, lowest for three months. The small cap index lost 42.1 to 2,415.2.

Cadbury Schweppes, following results, resisted the slump, recording a 27p gain to 864p, against a 993p peak hit in June. BG, the old British Gas, was another to buck the trend. More upbeat stockbroker forecasts lifted the shares a further 9.5p to 380p.

Rank, the hard-pressed leisure group, was another to hang in there with a 7.5p advance to 316.5p.

Companies with significant American exposure suffered cruelly in the decline. Amvescap, the US investment fund, fell a further 40p to 606p. British Petroleum lost 31p to 781p and Cable & Wireless 30p to 730p.

Misys, the first computer group to crash its way into Footsie, fell 96p to 2,760p with HSBC making negative noises. The shares were 3,696p in May.

Booker, the struggling cash and carry group which has suffered a catalogue of disasters in recent times, enjoyed a heady run. Stories that the German Metro chain may bid seemed to be responsible. A Metro denial failed to eliminate the speculation and the shares ended 12p higher at 220.5p after hitting 227.5p.

The cash and carry group has slumped from 479p four years ago. A surprise profit warning devastated the shares earlier this year.

In the hovering air of gloom, takeover action continued. Springwood, the leisure group run by Adam Page, said it was in merger talks with Waterfall, a snooker to bowling operation little changed at 86.5p, and promptly fell 14.5p to 124p. Paramount, the old Canadian Pizza, rose 25.5p to 145p after agreeing a pounds 28.3m offer from Greencore, the Irish group. Greencore already has 53 per cent of Paramount which came to the market at 200p five years ago. The bid is 150p a share.

Tadpole Technologies was another in the takeover arena. It was suspended at 18p after saying it was involved in talks which could lead to a "significant acquisition". Trading was halted at 18p, off 0.25p. The shares nudged 400p three years ago.

Meanwhile the Laporte offer for Inspec duly appeared at 340p appeared. Inspec firmed just 1p to 333.5p. Laporte lost 15.5p to 640.5p.

Shire Pharmaceutical had problems of its own, in addition to the sluggish market, to handle. The shares collapsed 86p to 393.5p after it reported a fire at a US plant had hit the supply of its hyperactive disorder treatment in the US. The shares have been strong in the past few weeks. Hopes for the group's Alzheimer's treatment lifted the shares to a 540.4p peak last month.

Phytopharm rose 15.5p to 96p. It was encouraged by stories that it is near to clinching a licensing deal for its eczema treatment. The company is developing drugs from plants. It is also working on treatments for baldness and osteo- arthritis. Oxford Molecular, reporting increased interim losses, fell 28.5p to 154p.

Tepnel Life Sciences lost 3.5p to 19p. It appears to be blaming its soggy share performance, down from 82.5p in the past year, on a change of management at one of its institutional investors. A new fund manager, it seems, is not at all impressed by the merits of second-line biotech shares and is unloading his fund's interest in Tepnel and, presumably, other similar companies.

MetalTech International, an engineer, fell 3.25p to 6.25p after delivering a profits warning.

Radstone Technology, an electronics group, put on 5.5p to 52p. The market was encouraged by pounds 6.5m of avionics orders. Its order book for computer subsystems for the defence industry now stands at more than pounds 20m. The shares were 122p three years ago.



GILTS INDEX: 105.58 -0.21

AIRTEL ATN, the latest Ofex newcomer, shrugged off the gloom, hitting 27.5p against a 20p placing. It is the new offering from Ruegg & Co, taking the corporate advisers' list of Ofex flotations to nine. Airtel raised pounds 1.8m. It develops software packages for air traffic control and aeronautical communications systems. Ruegg has the distinction of launching Ofex's star performer, Robotic Technology Systems. Now 232.5p, against a 30p placing, the company is valued at pounds 89m. It is expected soon to graduate from Ofex, either to AIM or perhaps Easdaq.

THE SHARE-BUYING at ISA International goes on apace. David Heap, brother of deputy chairman John Heap, has acquired another 500,000 shares, lifting his stake to 19.6 per cent. ISA, distributing products for information processing equipment, rose 1.5p to 72.5p. The shares were 242.5p in 1996.