Market Report: Footsie quick to follow Dow Jones into ragged retreat

The spectre of higher interest rates returned to haunt shares. Early gains were wiped out as the stock market took fright at the sight of New York once again in flight.

During London trading the Dow Jones Average was in ragged retreat and Footsie followed its example, ending 42.5 points lower at 4,270.7. At one time the index was looking exceedingly confident, sporting a 21.9 gain.

The latest US statistics caused the friction. They underlined the pressure for higher interest rates, prompting thoughts of a sharp increase next month.

The US tension drew attention to the near certainty of an increase in domestic rates after the election. It is widely believed that any Chancellor will find himself with little option but lift rates aggressively, perhaps by as much as a full point in two stages.

Trading, however, was not particularly active. Again the tendency among institutions was to sit on the sidelines with some of the more determined private investors left to make the running.

But when New York took fright, market makers more or less killed the day's action by indulging in some sharp, defensive markdowns.

Railtrack continued to dumbfound the vast array of doubters when the shares were floated at 190p last spring.

The shares were at one time up 23p, ending 11.5p higher at 441p.

The express performance stemmed in part from what is seen as Labour's confusion but seemingly more relaxed approach to the former nationalised groups. There were also more speculative stories of overseas interest. Some felt they detected foreign buying, prompting talk of corporate activity with a US group rumoured to be on the fast track.

But the railway company is still a tight share. Private investors account for more than 40 per cent of its capital and many institutions have yet to achieve the size of holding they desire.

Zeneca took up the drugs flag, gaining 35p to 1,851p on renewed speculation of a Swiss strike and a legal victory in the US over its breast cancer drug Nolvadex.

SkyePharma, the Ian Gowrie Smith drugs vehicle which has had a sedate existence this year, came to life, gaining 5p to 75p. A presentation at SBC Warburg seems to have done the trick. The company is also making presentations in Switzerland next week. Celsis International rose 4p to 107.5p with talk of an encouraging trading and drugs statement.

Shield Diagnostic fell 15p to 637.5p as it confirmed that Apax Partners no longer had a notifiable stake. The venture capitalists once had 19.1 per cent.

NFC, the old National Freight, skidded 1.5p to 146.5p, a 12-month low. NatWest Securities has cut its profit forecasts. This year's estimate is lowered from pounds 107.5m to pounds 99.3m; next year's from pounds 129.5m to pounds 117.5m and 1999's from pounds 154.5m to pounds 136m. Analyst Nick Ward said: "While disappointing and sizeable these downgrades have been more than offset by recent share price moves."

Once the City's outstanding workers' buy-out NFC touched 199p last year and 287p in 1993.

Mr Ward claims NFC's ambitions to be a global operator "will put the group in a strong position in years to come".

Tomkins, the conglomerate, fell 9p to 271p despite Salomon Brothers support. The investment house has put a 330p target on the shares. This week Tomkins paid pounds 370m for Stant, a US automotive component maker.

BOC, the chemical group, fell 21.5p to 919p as Dresdner Kleinwort Benson cut its forecasts. It has lowered this year's expectations from pounds 450m to pounds 430m and next year's also by pounds 20m to pounds 475m. BZW did the damage at P&O, chopping its estimate from pounds 500m to pounds 460m; the shares tumbled 14p to 602.5p.

Verity, the sound group, was again on song with a 3p gain to 54.75p. The market is convinced more deals on the lines of this week's link with Samsung, the Korean giant, are near. Hewlett Packard and Nokia are said to be interested.

Rowlinson Securities improved 30p to 312.5p as Barlows, run by Nicholas Berry, emerged as the signalled bidder with a share exchange offer.

Gold Mines of Sardinia, floated in the summer, has found gold and expects to produce soon. The shares have been strong, climbing from 18p last month. On the theory it is better to travel than arrive they fell 0.5p to 27p.

Antonov, seeking an Amsterdam quote and raising pounds 3m, returned at 124.5p.

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