Market Report: Footsie hits another peak in subdued trading

ANOTHER record-breaking session, although it was a far from convincing performance. Many experts felt that with New York seemingly catching its breath the stock market would do well to avoid a sharp downturn.

In the event Footsie strolled to yet another peak, ending 33.1 points higher at 5,751.6, and supporting indices, often in more robust form, hit new highs. This week Footsie has had a remarkable run, climbing nearly 170.

Trading, however, was often subdued yesterday with many investors prepared to sit on the sidelines.

Again financials provided the powerhouse. The takeover stories may be looking tired and bewhiskered but there is no denying they still have a tremendous impact on sentiment. Institutional buying, as well as hopes that shares with Far Eastern connections will continue to recover, are other influences.

Standard Chartered, the best performing blue chip for most of the session, illustrated the recovery attraction. Year's profits, next week, are expected to be flat, down to pounds 855m, as Asia extracts its inevitable toll. At one time up 64p, the banking group ended 45.5p higher at 764.5p.

Only weeks ago the shares were bumping along at 543p, lowest for more than two years. Before the Far Eastern crisis erupted last year they were as high as 1,081.5p.

HSBC, figures on Monday, gained 82p to 1,772p. The shares have moved between 2,347p and 1,366p in the past year.

Other financials buoying Footsie included Schroders, the investment group which hit a 2,170p high, up 100p. The still family controlled group could be a major player in any consolidation and make a tempting target for a range of growth-conscious financials. The non-voting shares rose 66p to 1,865p. Both classes, however, are exceedingly narrow markets and it takes little activity to provoke sharp movements. For example recorded volume in the non voters was only 19,552 shares.

Elsewhere Safeway, the supermarket chain, ignored the threat of a profits warning, gaining 14.5p to 375p and EMI, the showbiz group, responded to a statement that Sir Colin Southgate will continue as chairman, with an 10.5p gain to 494.5p. Jim Fifield remains chief officer of EMI Music.

Rank, the leisure group, reflected its results with a 9p gain to 340p and Bass fell 26.5p to 960p as speculation strengthened that it would emerge victorious in the battle for Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts with an exceedingly rich pounds 1.7bn offer.

Diageo, the wine and spirit giant, fell 10p to 605p as a spokeswomen denied that LVMH had sold any of its 11 per cent interest. Cash-rich Associated British Foods, in busy trading, rose 23p to 630p (after 645.5p) on rumours of an acquisition.

BAA firmed to 561.5p as Robert Fleming described the airport group as "a safe and defensive utility with strong asset backing". Salomon Smith Barney lifted its British Aerospace target to 2,300p, helping the shares 32p higher to 1,880p.

Engineer TI Group held at 490p. Merrill Lynch believes the relative fall over the past six months has been overdone. It expects a recovery shortly. The shares touched 690.5p in October. Difficulties in the group's mechanical seals division have created the unease. Merrill sees group profits of pounds 223m last year and pounds 245m this year.

Profit warnings were again a restraining influence. Albert Fisher maintained its reputation as a perennial under-performer, falling 6.5p to 25.5p as it warned interim figures would be lower.

SHL fell 22p to 291.5p after saying interim results would be little changed. Shares of the recruitment selection company were floated in October at 245p.

Core became the latest drugs casualty, crashing 76.5p to 118.5p after warning that two of its three potential drugs faced delays. Racal Electronic gained 8p to 264p following an investment dinner with Henderson Crosthwaite; Da La Rue, the security printer, managed a modest rally after Thursday's shake out, recovering 17p to 287p.

Sema, the computer group did its admittedly outside chances of joining Footsie no harm at all with a 72.5p gain to 1,910p after clinching a pounds 305m five-year contract to operate the Government's benefits agency medical service.

Card Clear, the payment and fraud prevention group, returned to market after the reverse pounds 24.5m takeover of HTEC, which supplies loyalty systems. Suspended at 47p in January the shares touched 57p, closing at 53.5p.

Uno, a furniture retailer, rose 30p to 230p after a large overhang, thought to be a line of stock owned by fund manager Gartmore, was placed by SG Securities.

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