Market Report: Futures expiry goes off quietly but negative advice causes a stir

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The Independent Online
The stock market was ruffled by a sudden outpouring of negative advice from leading securities houses.

Imperial Chemical Industries, Siebe and De La Rue were three singled out for analytical attention.

ICI fell 32p to 986p with Merrill Lynch doing the damage, downgrading its recommendation from buy to neutral. It has, however, left its profits estimates unchanged - pounds 365m before exceptionals this year and pounds 600m next.

Analyst Robyn Coombs is a little nervous of ICI's third-quarter trading this year and points out the American Union Carbide group produced a cautious profits statement.

Engineer Siebe gave up 28p to 1,145.5p with Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull suggesting investors should take their profits and De La Rue, the struggling security printer, fell 5.5p to 399.5p as UBS said sell.

The rest of the market had an uneventful session with the futures expiry, although creating active trading, failing to produce the roller-coaster experience some had predicted.

Footsie was higher in early trading but soon turned red. It ended down 22.4 points at 5,023.8. Still, over the week it has advanced 175.6, more than making up ground lost last week.

Tate & Lyle made a remarkably strong farewell to Footsie. It is one of five blue chips losing their Footsie membership to make way for new recruits.

The final Footsie hours are often fairly subdued but T&L was at one time 11.5p higher. It later lost some of its exuberance, closing 6.5p firmer at 420.5p. Turnover was brisk.

Stories of a bid from cash-rich Associated British Foods are the reason for the action. Although such a deal could run into competition problems - one analyst described it as a monopolistic nightmare - there are suggestions T&L's move from sugar into a much more broadly based sweetener group could offer opportunities for a deal to be struck with monopoly authorities.

Railtrack's progress was derailed by the Southall crash. At one time the shares were up 10.5p. But as reports of the tragedy came in they fell back, ending 8.5p lower at 836p.

Granada, the leisure and showbiz group, added 15p to 819p following upbeat meetings with analysts. Savoy Hotel, which this week recorded a sharp profits advance, fell 37.5p to 1,275p. The low voting shares have fallen from a 1,597.5p peak this year on disappointment Granada has failed to find a buyer for its stake. It is by far the biggest Savoy shareholder but, because of the group's two-tier voting structure, accounts for only 42 per cent of the votes.

Various rumours have circulated, ranging from a trade sale of the Granada stake to a flotation, leaving the Savoy as an independent company.

Sears, expected to disclose another set of poor figures next week, edged forward 2p to 58.5p on talk it was near to a break-up of its struggling shoe shops chain. It was reported that company doctor David James, in charge of the sprawling shoes operation, had concluded a piecemeal sale was the best option. Any such deal could produce an exceptional charge of around pounds 100m.

On Thursday Sears, which plans to demerge its Selfridges department store, is expected to produce an interim loss in the region of pounds 6.5m. Last year's interim was a pounds 16.8m profit. The shares have come down from 96p last year.

Airtours, the packaged holidays group, had a topsy-turvy session, swinging between a 23.5p gain and an 18.5p loss. The shares ended unchanged at 1,054p. The departure of two directors from a subsidiary and worries about the holiday industry price war eroding profits created the turbulence.

Newcomer ComputerLand, placed at 100p, traded up to 120p.

Prism Leisure was the day's main casualty, crashing 85p to 82.5p. It said year's results would be lower than expected. Finance director Robert Skelton is leaving although his departure was said to be unconnected with the profits warning.

ASW, the steel group, remained in the bid spotlight, gaining a further 2.5p to 39p. There was confusion whether 12 per cent stakeholder Usinor Sacilor, a French group, had denied any interest in bidding.