Market Report: Footsie suffers as gloom spreads from the Far East

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The Independent Online
The bugbear of Asia returned to haunt the stock market. As the Far Eastern crisis appeared to worsen Footsie fell 98.8 points to 5,138.3.

Not surprisingly shares with a significant Pacific exposure suffered the cruellest blows. The Standard Chartered banking group collapsed 50p to 547p, lowest for more than two years, and HSBC lost 54p to 1,379p, lowest for a year.

Last year Standard touched 1,081.5p; HSBC, with analysts forecasting a run to 2,600p, peaked at 2,347p.

Cable & Wireless, with its extensive Far Eastern network, retreated 23p to 494p and international trader Inchcape came off another 7p to 153p.

Until the latest bout of Asian flu, hopes were high that the stock market would soon achieve a new closing peak, topping the 5,330.8 hit in October. Although the undertone seemed firm, equities could not be expected to move serenely ahead with so many markets in despair.

New York remained off-colour although the volatile payroll figures failed to create much of a stir.

BT was one of a handful of blue chips to ignore the gloom, ringing in a 2p gain to 502.5p, largely on hopes that it plans another cash distribution through a special dividend. BG, the big mover and shaker on Thursday, slipped 1.25p to 303.75p, although its former gas arm, Centrica, edged ahead 1.75p to 95.5p, reflecting the settlement of the last of its cash- sapping take-and-pay gas contracts.

It was not only Far Eastern banking shares which came under pressure. After recent gains the domestic variety were clearly vulnerable to a downturn and Barclays fell 60p to 1,650p and National Westminster Bank 51p to 1.020p. Insurances, also recent higher flyers, felt the pinch.

Among second liners Booker, the cash and carry group, endured a drubbing after producing a profits warning which must have embarrassed SBC Warburg. The shares fell 66.5p to 272.5p.

This week the investment house made positive noises about the food group and its shares rose 21.5p, Warburg was impressed by Booker's cost-cutting programme and Charles Bowen, chief executive, said its conclusions were "absolutely right".

He said the group's trading situation only came to light on Thursday and to prevent a false share market developing he decided to issue a warning that profits would be "somewhat below" pounds 80m. The market expected more than pounds 90m.

Yorklyde, a luxury scarves group, was another hit by a profit warning, falling 40.5p to 97p.

Scottish & Newcastle, the brewing group, lost much of a 10p gain after it became apparent it will have to end its exclusive beer supply deal with the 4,300 outlets of the Grand Pub Co. Although it will still deliver to the pubs it will have to include the products of other brewers on its drays. The shares ended 2p higher at 742p.

Share buy-in activity continued, with General Electric Co, up 2.25p at 394.5p, picking up 18.5 million shares at 395p.

WH Smith's possible sale of its Waterstone's book shops rekindled thoughts of a cash handout, lifting the shares 7.5p to 423p. And Somerfield managed to cling to the bid story, moving ahead a further 5p to 235.5p. Latest theory is that Asda, should it bid, would retain the bigger outlets, selling the smaller units to a chain such as Budgens, up 1p to 58.5p.

Sketchley, where a mystery bidder had apparently been approaching major shareholders, gained a further 12p to 58p. There is talk of a 75p a share offer. Disposals are expected in the next few weeks.

Retailers were mixed as the market waited for the next round of Christmas trading statements. Boots, Dixons, Kingfisher and Next are among those due next week, with Dixons adding the additional muscle of interim profits figures.

Premier Oil firmed 1.5p to 52.5p. It has made what it describes as a "significant discovery" off Indonesia. Most other oil shares were lower, with British Petroleum off 12p at 778p.

Arriva, the former Cowie group, motored 24p to 372p on the back of recent continental expansion.

Amey, the high flying construction group, gave up 42.5p to 414p. The company confirmed that Ministry of Defence police were looking into services management contracts at one of its subsidiaries. Amey described the probe as a "routine investigation". The shares have enjoyed a spectacular run, largely on the back of railway maintenance contracts. Two years ago they were 117p.

Oriental Restaurants rose 12p to 251.5p, reacting to recent favourable comments from ABN Amro Hoare Govett.