MARKET REPORT : Healthy display from another medical high-flyer

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The Independent Online
It was just like old times as the stock market alighted on a new wonder health share. Shield Diagnostic, which has bobbed around unconvincingly since arriving at 112p four years ago, was the attraction, shooting ahead 80p to a peak of 249.5p in a sudden burst of busy trading.

For long the potential star of its medical portfolio has been a test for measuring the possibility of heart attacks.

It now seems the Shield technique could have made a crucial breakthrough. If it has the company should be on the verge of making a statement.

Some believe Shield could become another British Biotech which, despite its recent hesitancy, has made dramatic progress.

Shield's development is a test for what is known as Activated Factor Twelve (AFT), which is one of the main components for blood clotting. Measuring AFT, it is felt, could be the best indication of cardiac risk. The results of two trials are known to be due.

Earlier this month, Shield caught a chill when it warned of worse-than- expected losses. It blamed lower sales of medical kits for an increased interim deficit of pounds 550,000, which prompted thoughts that its year's loss could top pounds 1m.

As Shield romped ahead another biotech high-flyer, Biocompatibles International, lost a little of its exuberance. The shares dipped 42.5p to 1,187.5p; they were 400p in the summer.

Leading equities had an uncertain session. In early trading Footsie managed a new high - 4,276.3 points - but uncertainty about the direction of interest rates took its inevitable toll and by the close the gain had been cut back to 3.1 points at 4,260.9.

With US rates about to be decided, Ken and Eddie enduring one of their confrontations today and the Germans thought to be near a rate cut, there was precious little incentive for investors to stir from the sidelines. Surprisingly, judging by the recorded volume, quite a few did, with sellers just about getting the upper hand.

British Petroleum had a busy time with Lehman Brothers, the US investment house, said to have put an 810p target on the shares. However some of the Lehman enthusiasm evaporated after another house, said to be Merrill Lynch, cast doubt on the buoyancy of the crude oil price. BP, at one time up 19p, settled for a 7.5p gain at 748.5p. Clyde Petroleum edged ahead 2.5p to 120p on the higher bid from Gulf Canada.

It was a day when high-flyers ran into profit-taking. Besides Biocompatibles, the seemingly unstoppable British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate slipped 36.5p to 1,301p and SmithKline Beecham and Zeneca fell back as the Roche analysts meeting turned out to be something of a non-event.

Pace Micro Technology, expected to produce the digital television decoders, slumped 57p to 169.5p after producing a profit warning. Maid gained 22.5p to 172.5p after rushing out a trading statement to counter the share slide - from 315p in October. The on-line information group said trading was in line with expectations.

Provincial television groups staged a modest rally, with Scottish TV up 30.5p to 576.5p and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees 40p to 1,142.5p. The digital alliance was less robust, with BSkyB and Carlton Communications giving ground and Flextech and Granada achieving modest headway. BSkyB's 16p fall to 593p could have been influenced by confusing European Union moves to increase the spread of coverage for big sporting events.

Cable & Wireless gained 15p to 479p as some wondered whether the seeming break-up of its link with the German Veba group would open the door for a takeover bid. Veba says it intends to keep its 10.4 per cent Cable stake but could buy out the 45 per cent held by Cable in a German telecoms venture.

Active Imagining jumped 20p to 97.5p after a company called TVX made a bid of around 104p a share.

Bridon, the wire and rope group, rose 14.5p to 121p on talk that its second half had been better than expected with the year's results at the top end of expectations, probably pounds 11m.

Northern Leisure, paying pounds 2.65m for a nightclub at Barnsley, gained 4.5p to 212.5p. Stockbroker Redmayne Bentley forecasts this year's results at pounds 7.95m with pounds 10.6m next and suggests the shares are a buy.

Prestwick, the electronic group, added 5.5p to 42.5p as acquisitive TT, the mini conglomerate, lifted its shareholding to 7.21 per cent.

Circle Communications continued to relapse following a profit warning, falling a further 25p to 95p.

Taking Stock

r Friendly Hotels rose 7p to 165.5p; stories circulated it is near to unloading its troublesome office services business and forging closer links with US group Choice Hotels International by taking on the management of some Choice properties on the Continent. Friendly first linked with Choice in April.

As part of the deal the Americans took a 5 per cent stake in Friendly and pumped pounds 11m into convertible preferred shares. The US group could end up with 28 per cent of the 30-strong Friendly chain.

r Calidore, a deal-maker, arrived on AIM with the shares ending at 3.25p and the warrants at 1p. A share and warrant unit was placed at 2.5p. Damian Aspinall (Caverdale car group) and Anton Bilton, of the building family, are behind the venture.