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Market report: Footsie recovers from merger breakdown shock

THE STOCK market survived the collapse of the world's biggest merger without needing any shock treatment. In early trading Footsie was off 117.9 points. By the close the fall had been cut to 51.8 at 5,651.

Yet Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham were responsible for a 75.1 points decline. So if the falling out of the two drug giants was stripped out of the calculation Footsie would have ended in the black, up 23.3.

Glaxo crashed 247p (after 314p) to 1,657p and SB 83p (after 102p) to 724p. When the drug-induced delirium first hit the market Glaxo jumped to 1,983p and SB to 845p. Glaxo is near its pre-merger price; SB, which had been buoyed by its aborted deal with American Home Products, is 56p below its level when the Glaxo deal was announced.

The market also had to contend with the poor results from National Westminster Bank (off 21p at 1,104p) and another trollyful of woe from Safeway (9.5p down at 355.5p).

The breakdown of the world's biggest merger, which would have created a pounds 100bn drugs behemoth, sent shock waves through early trading. But although turnover in the two thwarted drug groups was heavy the market quickly swung round to the view that the various bid permutations had, if anything, increased.

The fact that the merger had been killed by a personality clash rather than any accountancy or drug problems also helped sentiment.

The stock shortage was another factor. Shares are now in short supply. The rush of share buybacks and the tendency to use cash, rather than equity, in takeovers has lowered the share pool at a time when many fund managers, after two years on the sidelines, are scrambling to build their portfolios. An upheaval of the Glaxo/SB variety is, therefore, a blessing to equity- short fund managers.

With the cult of the merger still very strong there was hardly time for the Glaxo/SB last rites before the speculation resumed. The market opted for an old favourite - money shares and in particular insurances.

The globalisation argument applies to financials as well as drugs. And with three insurers reporting today the temptation to alight again on the sector proved irresistible.

Commercial Union, GRE and General Accident were in the frame. A deal involving any two of the three was the popular guess as GA climbed 83p to 1,455p; GRE 20.75p to 440.75p and CU 24p to 1.130p.

Other takeover candidates were pressed into service. Reckitt & Colman, with Unilever the alleged predator, jumped 42p to 1,105p and Standard Chartered (again) 16p to 758p.

Away from bid speculation BAT Industries rose 17p to 598p with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson suggesting a 668p target, and a Goldman Sachs upgrading helped Cadbury Schweppes 13.5p higher to 770p, a peak.

Utilities were depressed by fears of a tougher regulatory climate. Severn Trent underlined worries that the Government may clamp down next month on profits and dividends at an analysts' presentation. United Utilities fell 30p to 772p; Thames Water 18p to 847p and PowerGen 11p to 812p. Severn Trent sank 16p to 902p. Morgan Stanley is cautious on the sector.

SkyePharma gained 7.5p to 62.5p following a link with SmithKline over its Paxil treatment for nervous disorders. SG Securities sees SkyePharma moving into profits with a pounds 3.3m outcome next year and pounds 50m in the year 2,000.

Scotia fell 30p to 322.5p after a licence application was withdrawn.

Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries firmed to 497.5p after buying back 1.5 million shares at 495p.

Manchester Utd, the best performing football share, discovered that being top of the Premiership is not enough to bolster its investment appeal. The shares fell 4p to 141p, lowest for more than a year. Still any investor (or supporter) who backed the 1991 flotation is still sitting on a handsome profit. The issue price was around 18p.

MSB International, an IT group, gained 35p to 807.5p as Merrill Lynch started researching the company with a buy recommendation.

Dudley Jenkins, a mailing group, said it did not know any reason for the strength of its shares and replaced a 22.5p gain with a 12p fall. DRS Data said there was no "underlying reason" for the weakness of its shares; they promptly reduced a 4.5p fall, ending 2p off at 16p.

Delyn, on the arrival of the Rubin family with 25.04 per cent, rose 10p to 127.5p, and Leslie Wise, where the privately owned Joe Bloggs is said to hover, hardened a further 2p to 16p.