Market Report: German waves drive Footsie on the rocks

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The Independent Online
BUILDING and building material shares endured another onslaught yesterday as the Germans increased their interest rates, appearing to delay still further the UK's economic upturn.

At one time the FT-SE share index was up 20.7 points. It closed three lower at 2,483.4.

Redland and RMC, with their extensive German exposure, were obvious targets. Pilkington suffered a sharp profit downgrading and, with a gloomy City investment seminar on the industry strengthening fears of disappearing dividends and profits, the gloom clouds weighed heavily on the sector.

Shares of Redland were at one time down 25p. They closed 19p lower at 445p. RMC lost 13p before closing at 518p, down 8p.

Glassmaker Pilks cracked a further 11p to 96p. Kleinwort Benson cut its profit forecast by pounds 30m to pounds 50m and pointed to the possibility of the 6p a share dividend being halved.

Among other casualties were housebuilders Persimmon, down 12p at 226p and Wilson Bowden, 16p lower at 340p. Tarmac dropped 4p to 81p. Anglia Secure Homes, a builder of sheltered accommodation, tumbled a further 3p to 3.5p. The shares have fallen 8.5p in two days.

The rest of the market was helped as profit-takers moved in following the surprise German move. At one time Footsie was down eight points as some wondered whether the German increase would force UK interest rates higher.

Although an advance was quickly dismissed, the German action makes it much more difficult for the Government to engineer the lower interest rates for which builders and retailers (and others) are clamouring.

Builders did not dominate the downgrading industry. Grand Metropolitan had to contend with a forecast cut from one of its stockbrokers, Panmure Gordon. It lowered by pounds 20m to pounds 1.05bn because of currency movements. Allied-Lyons felt the weight of Nikko Securities' caution. Grand Met dipped 11p to 457p and Allied 14p to 620p.

Associated British Ports dropped 26p to 320p as it warned of a pounds 10m property provision and Airtours, last year's top performing share, fell 10p to 205p, reflecting bigger-than-expected losses by its rival Owners Abroad, down 2p at 64p.

But it was not all one-way traffic. Carr Kitcat & Aitken nudged higher its hopes for Siebe and T & N, and S G Warburg descended on St Ives.

Siebe, with the forecast up pounds 8m to pounds 188m, improved 13p to 680p. T & N, up pounds 3m to pounds 68m, put on 4p to 157p and printer St Ives, up from pounds 18.5m to pounds 20m, slipped 1p to 260p.

Management consultant Alexander Proudfoot, headed by Lord Stevens of Ludgate, had another difficult session, falling 22p to 172p. A sale, thought to be by an institution, of 600,000 shares at 150p created the latest wave of unease. Earlier this week more than one million shares were dumped at 200p, then well below the market price.

The shares have collapsed from 245p this week, with company and director buying making little impression.

Profit forecasts have been cut - James Capel has lowered from pounds 43m to pounds 38m - and chief executive Thomas Huhn has retired. A cautious trading statement added to the uncertainty.

British Aerospace held at 256p. Stories persist that General Electric Co will be tempted to strike. GEC fell 3p to 216.5p.

Great Universal Stores made a contribution to the health of the outnumbered bulls. Its profits were ahead of expectations pushing the powerful ordinary shares 25p higher to 1,963p and the non-voters 43p to 1,446p.

Marks and Spencer, ahead of today's shareholders' meeting, gained 3p to 307p.

Oils had an unhappy time, with British Petroleum dipping 3.5p to 207.5p. Enterprise fell 9p to 358p and Lasmo 12p to 144p.

BM Group remained a weak counter, falling 11p to 74p, lowest since the sudden departure of its chairman, Roger Shutte. The shares, despite City presentations and promises of higher dividends, have been in nearly continuous freefall since the Shutte resignation.

The price touched 417p earlier this year, and immediately before the announcement that ill-health had forced Mr Shutte to leave it stood at 314p.

Shares had a see-saw session. An early 20.7-point gain was transformed into an eight-point loss before a little late bargain-hunting narrowed the decline to three points at 2,483.4 by the close. The FT 30-share index had a 5.4 fall to 1,890.8. Turnover was the best for some time, with 525.5 million shares traded from 19,491 bargains.

Concern is mounting over WPP, the troubled advertising group run by Martin Sorrell. A dollars 422m refinancing plan to save it from collapse appears to have run into problems. A substantial holder of WPP's convertible shares is thought to have rejected the plans, which involve a partial equity-for-debt swap. The shares slumped 6p to 33p yesterday.

Shares of Hicking Pentecost, the revamped textile group, rose 11p to 130p after chairman John Lister told shareholders trading was running ahead of last year. The group, which has moved into low-tech engineering and is thought to be seeking acquisitions, achieved profits of pounds 2.2m last year, up from pounds 782,000. There are market hopes it will reach pounds 2.9m this year.

Another new issue. Stockbroker Beeson Gregory yesterday placed 3.6 million shares of Quality Care Homes at 136p, giving an pounds 18m capitalisation. Dealings are due to start on Thursday. The company has 11 freehold nursing homes in the North-east. Profits of pounds 1.75m are expected this year, putting the shares on 12.6 times earnings at the placing price.

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