Market Report: Footsie hopefuls lead way as trade remains a trickle

SHARES enjoying a sporting chance of joining the exclusive Footsie club made much of the stock market running yesterday.

The committee that decides the composition of the FT-SE 100 share index is due to meet this week. With the FT-SE 350 index and the FT-SE Mid index likely to make their appearance in the next week or so, it could be the last time the committee's Footsie deliberations have much impact on share prices.

But, as if to recognise the committee's 'swan song', the shares of the five groups regarded as likely Footsie newcomers moved ahead. The expected casualties turned in a mixed performance.

Without, of course, any help from the perceived recruits, the index ended 10 points higher at 2,372.2. But with trading down to the merest trickle the index's performance was of little relevance. According to Seaq, only 299.8 million shares were traded, almost the lowest this year.

There were just 15,106 bargains. Such a dismal start to the account sent shivers through the market. It is clear that many securities houses have over the past year quietly trimmed their wage bills by allowing (encouraging?) staff to drift away.

If turnover stays for long at its present low ebb, the days of wholesale sackings by the big groups could return and many smaller stockbrokers could be forced to close their books.

The low level of investment interest has been compounded by the Stock Exchange authorities' seeming indifference to the plight of small companies. The decision by SG Warburg to stop market-making in the shares of 362 small companies merely emphasised the yawning gap between leading shares and the third and fourth liners with its implications for turnover.

Of the pathetically low volume, Footsie members accounted for 135.8 million shares. The rest was represented by the much-maligned non-Footsie stocks.

A little more imagination towards the smaller quoted companies could possibly redress the seeming inexorable march towards the despair of the bulletin board.

De La Rue, the specialist banknote printer that is seen as a likely Footsie constituent, rose 11p to 565p. Bowater, the packaging group, another candidate, was effectively higher at 755p allowing for its dividend payment.

Others up on Footsie hopes were Standard Chartered, TI Group and Warburg.

Among the expected casualties, British Aerospace rose 6p to 219p, Hillsdown Holdings 6p to 104p, Pilkington 2p to 91p and Royal Insurance, allowing for its dividend payment, was almost unchanged at 148p. The insurance broker Willis Corroon fell 3p to 158p.

The German weekend pledge not to raise interest rates made little impression. The continuing pressure on sterling was the more telling influence.

Downgradings still left their mark. UBS Phillips & Drew lowered its forecast for MFI, the flatpack furniture group, from pounds 75m to pounds 60m, knocking the shares 6p to 102p.

Medeva, the drugs group, improved 17p to 198p ahead of today's interim figures.

Dalgety put on 4p to 388p as the story gained ground that it was about to sell its baking and milling side.

Hepworth, the building materials group, fell 20p to 243p following a Kleinwort Benson downgrade.

But buy recommendations still appear. Kingfisher, the retail chain, rose 7p to 441p as County NatWest and Warburg made bullish noises.

The insurance group London & Manchester fell 9p to 206p in heavy trading. A number of large trades went through, including an agency cross at 202p.

MB Caradon, reflecting the Hoare Govett buy circular, rose 7p to 222p. The oddly named CarnaudMetalbox, formerly CMB Packaging, surged a further 125p to 2,050p, making a two-day gain of 200p.

MB has a 25 per cent interest and it has long been suspected it is a willing seller. The story gripping the market is it has had an acceptable approach. If MB does sell the expectation is that a full bid will be mounted.

Wellman, the engineer, held at 27.5p as aggressive Carlco increased its shareholding by 300,000 shares to 9.85 per cent.

Interest is developing in Gestetner Holdings, the office equipment group. There has been some intriguing trading in the shares, up 1p to 128p yesterday. Ricoh, the Japanese photocopier maker, pumped in cash at 250p a share and is thought to be seeking a closer involvement. Chairman Basil Sellers is a big shareholder and there is talk he will accept an offer from Ricoh.

The bombed-out shares of little Aviva Petroleum jumped 11p to 55p yesterday. The growing involvement of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which converted outstanding interest into shares at 58p, and the expected success of a rights issue are helping sentiment. But the shares have suffered a savage mauling. Earlier this year, after a consolidation, they hit 375p.

Aegis Group, the media buyer, is visiting City institutions this week, no doubt attempting to drum up support for its refinancing, which was criticised by the stockbroker James Capel. The refinancing will strengthen the power of the company's two main shareholders, Warburg Pincus, the US investment bank, and Gilbert Gross. The shares held at 29p

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