Market report: Footsie reaches new high in spite of election jitters

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The Independent Online
Equities enjoyed another record-breaking session, drawing encouragement from New York's outstanding overnight display. Footsie stretched 22.8 points to 4,327.1, topping last week's peak by 19.3.

Yet political nervousness is becoming increasingly apparent. To a large extent election jitters have been masked by Wall Street's strength. Although the stock market has attempted to cling to Wall Street's coat-tails there is no doubt it has found it difficult to remain in touch.

Indeed the gap between Footsie and the Dow Jones Average is yawning wider and wider. At the start of last year it was around 1,400 points. When this year got under way the gap had stretched to 2,434 and as the market closed yesterday it stood near to 2,660.

However there remains a strong body of opinion that shares will continue to perform well although there is a suspicion the market could endure a bout of summertime blues.

Another outbreak of take-over activity, possibly due to the looming election, is helping to soak up some of the political uncertainty. The mystery predator at Chubb Security means a pounds 1.3bn offer is in the market and comes on the heels of the battle for Newman Tonks and Fairey's successful strike for Burnfield. Siebe's modest pounds 46m bid for Whessoe is seen as another indication that corporate Britain wants to get deals done and dusted before polling day.

Chubb, firm on Wednesday on takeover speculation, jumped a further 79p to 420p; the bid is expected to come in at 450p.

Unilever is also contributing to the takeover fuse. The chance of the Anglo-Dutch giant hitting the bid trail has increased this week with Reckitt & Colman, up a further 22.5p to 757.5p on SBC Warburg support, seen as the most likely target. Since Unilever's ambitions became apparent Reckitt shares have climbed 48p.

Smith & Nephew, the health care group, is another regarded as a possible target. The shares gained 9p to 188p, highest since November. Last year Smith & Nephew was the subject of heady bid speculation with Johnson & Johnson, the US giant, seen as the most likely predator.

Airtours, thought to be in the sights of Carnival, the US group with a 29 per cent interest, rose 19p to another peak, 956.5p.

The Chubb excitement spilt over to its former parent, Racal Electronic. A suspected meeting at Henderson Crosthwaite was another bullish influence. The shares rose 13.5p to 276.5p.

Emap, the publisher, was another thought to be meeting analysts; its shares edged forward 2.5p to 812.5p.

Shell, largely on its share-split, flared 27.5p to 1,089p; the rest of the sector, with the exception of Cairn Energy, had an indifferent session. Cairn was helped by renewed exploration interest in Bangladesh where it is deeply involved. The shares rose 22p to 557.5p.

Inchcape, the international trading group, gained 9.5p to 270.5p on Kleinwort Benson support and BAA, rose 4p to 545p on Lehman Brothers buy advice. Pearson was hit by the possible pounds 100m provision, falling 14p to 749.5p.

Utilities were unsettled by Gordon Brown's assertion that Labour's planned windfall tax would be legal; Thames Water fell 7p to 667p.

Imperial Chemical Industries gave up 7p to 751.5p as Salomon Brothers reduced its recommendation to hold. It has substantially downgraded expectations and is looking for little changed profits of pounds 611m this year and pounds 702m next.

An upbeat profits forecast - an unusual event in these days of profit warnings - sent clothing group French Connection 45.5p higher at 315p and ahead of figures today Flying Flowers moved up 3.5p to 215.5p.

Health shares were strong. SmithKline Beecham, figures soon, jumped 25.5p to 883.5p and Celltech rose 12.5p to 671.5p. Shield Diagnostic, still awaiting trial results on its method of detecting heart disease, gained another 45.5p to 370.5p. But British Biotech fell 9.5p to 239p on the surprising departure of finance director James Noble. At one time the shares were off 20p.

Copyright Promotions, the merchandising group, jumped 10.5p to 91p after signing up with Playmates Toys of the US for the development of the "Mr Men" brand.

Stockbroker Charterhouse Tilney had a busy day, collecting two brokerships - John Maunders, a builder, and Hunters Armley, a printer. Maunders held at 185p and Hunters at 102.5p.

Trocadero, the leisure group, fell 5p to 37p, a 12-month low, and director share-buying lifted wine bar operator Pembertons 4.5p to 25p.