Market Report: Footsie notches up another record after US jobs data

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The Independent Online
A weaker-than-expected set of US employment figures saw the FTSE 100 index climb back above the psychologically significant 4,000 mark as fears about an early rise in US interest rates receded.

September non-farm payrolls in the US fell by 40,000 against expectations of a rise of 175,000. The weak jobs data gave stock market bulls on both sides of the Atlantic more ammunition to shoot down claims that the Federal Reserve should have raised interest rates at its meeting last month.

The jobs news pushed the Dow Jones index over 30 points higher in the first hour of trading, putting it within sight of the 6,000 mark.

The Footsie, off as much as 18 points in early trade, followed in Wall Street's footsteps to end the week at a record closing high of 4024.8, up 24.8 on the day.

British Airways headed the list of leading blue-chip performers. Its shares soared to a record high of 594.5p, up 33p, on reports that the European Commission is expected to recommend legalising the buying and selling of airport take-off and landing slots which are currently traded in a grey market. The move to open up landing slots could pave the way for BA's planned alliance with American Airlines to go ahead.

Analysts said BA could add billions to its balance sheet if the EC allowed the ownership of airport slots. Broker Merrill Lynch reckons BA's Heathrow slots are worth pounds 10bn, making them easily the single biggest item on the airline's balance sheets.

Elsewhere in the transport sector, Stagecoach benefited from a UBS buy recommendation to move 7.5p higher at 533.5p.

A report by industry consultants Wood Mackenzie that decommissioning the oil and gas platforms in the North Sea could cost pounds 8.7bn sent a shudder through the sector in early trade.

At one stage Shell fell 6p to 985.3p and BP was off 6.5p to 670.5p, but both stocks recovered with the general market to close comfortably ahead on the day with Shell 7.5p better and BP 10.5p higher.

Elsewhere in the sector, Ramco Energy advanced 30p to 670p on news that Mercury Asset Management had increased its stake to 19.6 per cent. Ramco has a stake in Azerbaijan's first big oil development involving Western companies in a three-field offshore development in the Caspian Sea. Deutsche Morgan Grenfell is clearly less impressed than MAM with Ramco's prospects as it yesterday declared it no longer had a notifiable interest in the shares.

BSkyB's powerful run continued. The shares easily vaulted over the 600p mark to close 12p higher at 606.5p after Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which effectively owns 40 per cent of BSkyB, won a courtroom battle to start a rebel rugby league competition in Australia. BSkyB already screens the European version of the rugby super league.

Bid rumours continued to swirl around HTV, the ITV franchise holder which added 22.5p to 384.5p, a whisker shy of its all-time high of 400p. Yorkshire TV, said to be a target for neighbouring Granada, firmed 7.5p to 1200p.

EMI dipped 37p to 1279p after finance director Simon Duffy sold 135,000 shares at 1318p - apparently to buy a house in Oxford. BZW was said to be long on the stock all day, while HSBC James Capel cut estimates for record company earlier this week.

Bass was weak again. Shares in the brewer drooped 4.5p lower to 773p amid further selling in the options market. The Office of Fair Trading is understood to have received submissions this week from Greenalls and Scottish & Newcastle urging Bass' pounds 250m purchase of Carlsberg-Tetley from Allied Domecq to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Courtaulds was another to miss out on the fun. Its shares fell to the bottom of the FTSE 100 league, closing 17p down at 470.5p as Kleinwort Benson cut its 1996 profits estimate to pounds 140m from pounds 160m on the outlook for the group's acrylics operations.

Shares in Forward Technology were also friendless after the electronics company said interim pre-tax profits had tumbled to pounds 109,000 from pounds 812,000. The shares slid 18p to 44p.

New Guernsey was the biggest mover of the day after Hambros Bank made a cash offer on behalf of Andrew Regan and others valuing the trust at pounds 4.1m. The shares soared 137.5p to 337.5p.

Shares in Archer Group were also in demand, jumping 21p to 82.5p after Chartwell Re Corp said it was in discussions which could lead to a takeover of the operator of syndicates at Lloyd's of London.

TAKING STOCK

rShares in airline promotions group Watermark made an impression, rising 2p to 21p on maiden interim results. These showed operating profits of pounds 142,000, versus a loss of pounds 111,000 a year ago. However, the figures were struck before an pounds 86,000 charge incurred as a result of moving from Ofex to the more tightly-regulated AIM market in August.

rCentury Inns held at 155p. Geordie broker Wise Speke rates them a buy, despite shaving its 1996 profit forecast to pounds 7.2m from pounds 7.5m to reflect the cost of opening 10 new managed pubs. Century's strategy, financing and growth opportunities are similar to those of regional brewers, albeit without the brewery, yet the historic p/e of 11.3 compares unfavourably with a rating of 15.3 for the rest of the sector.

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