Market Report: Interest rate doubts overhang share strength

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The Independent Online
IF THERE is not an interest rate cut of at least one percentage point in the next few days the stock market will have difficulty clinging to the spectacular gains achieved last week.

Yesterday, on the hesitant French approval of Maastricht, shares opened lower and then roared ahead as expectations of a quick interest fix gathered strength.

But then profit-takers, cashing in at least some of last week's gains, got the upper hand.

Doubts set in about the Government's willingness to sanction lower interest rates with sterling still under pressure and the market's enthusiasm evaporated.

The FT-SE share index ended 6.9 points down at 2,560.1. Dividend announcements stripped 8.36 from the index.

At one time it was up 44.2 - above 2,600 for the first time since June.

Turnover did not quite reach the heady one billion level. But, with 953.4 million shares traded and 38,369 bargains, it was another frenetic session.

At least one significant programme trade contributed to the action. One securities house ditched domestic in favour of overseas shares.

Devaluation benefits continued to spur some. Imperial Chemical Industries, for example, rose 18p to 1,155p. And interest rate hopes inspired some builders and building materials groups.

Stores had a mixed time, with Marks & Spencer, down 11.5p to 324p, having to contend with the indignity of a sell recommendation. County NatWest's advice is not intended as a criticism of the high street retailer. Analyst John Richards merely thinks that, as the shares performed strongly last week, there is now better value elsewhere.

He has, however, turned bullish on Storehouse, moving his stance from sell to buy. The group, he believes, is responding to treatment from its new chief executive, David Dworkin, and he is likely to increase his group profit forecast. Already his profit projection for the BHS stores subsidiary has been lifted. The shares edged ahead 1p to 147p.

Sears, following the sale of its menswear operations in a management buyout, rose 5p to 69p. Figures are due next week.

Trafalgar House, the contracting and leisure conglomerate where pressure appears to be growing for management changes, rose 7p to 52.5p. Racal Electronics, stripped of its Chubb security group, closed at 134p. The old Racal edged forward 1.75p to 64.75p.

With trading so busy, it is not surprising that takeover rumours, increasingly rare while turnover dwindled and shares drifted lower, are coming back into fashion. They flowed with some strength.

Marley, the building group, managed for a time to hold a 10p gain to 95p as rumours swirled of a pending bid from MB Caradon. The shares ended at 91p. MB was little changed at 265p.

Arjo Wiggins Appleton, too, enjoyed bid support, jumping 16.5p to 166p despite a 2.65p dividend. But Saint-Louis, the French group with a 39 per cent interest, said it was not planning a bid.

Taunton Cider reached a 169p high, up 6p, on suggestions that a Continental predator hovered. The shares were floated at 140p in July.

Fisons, which has been firm on continuing takeover speculation, retreated 10p to 182p. But TVS Entertainment, where a bidder has materialised, gained 2.25p to 21p.

British Aerospace, expected to roll out dismal interim figures tomorrow, managed to climb 9p to 198p. Huntleigh Technology, also reporting tomorrow, rose a further 28p to a 678p peak.

Oils were firm on hopes that the crude price will be squeezed higher. Lasmo took up the running, gaining 12.5p to 160p.

Irish exploration shares again attracted attention on hopes of a significant gas find in the Celtic Sea, off Cork. Oliver Resources, with 28 per cent of the action, and Bula Resources, with 15 per cent, were briskly traded.

Financials responded to the flurry of share trading. Smith New Court improved 6p to 94p and S G Warburg 22p to 498p.

City Sites Estates, which dropped sharply on Friday following its decision not to pay preference dividends due at the end of the month, rebounded 8p to 18p.

The bombed-out Speyhawk property group rose 3.5p to 12p. Property Security Investment Trust jumped 21p to 88p as UBS Phillips & Drew said buy.

Shandwick, the public relations group, at last responded to director sharebuying, jumping 4p to 10p.

The British Rail Pension Fund could be one of the parties offering shares around - it has cut its stake to 3.44 per cent by selling 1.1 million shares.

It was a volatile opening to the account. The FT- SE share index, at one time up 44.2 points, ended 6.9 down at 2,560.1. The FT 30-share index was up 2.6 points at 1,887.8. Volume reached 953.4 million shares, with 38,369 bargains struck. Government stocks, at the long end of the market, fell by up to three-quarters of a point.

SHV Holdings, the powerful Dutch investment group, continues to nibble at Nurdin & Peacock, the UK's largest cash-and-carry warehouse operator. It has picked up another 100,000 shares and now has just over 13 per cent. SHV already has extensive UK cash-and-carry interests. It also has 46.17 per cent of Calor, the liquefied gas group. N&P shares rose 2p to 140p.

European Motor Holdings, the old Cargo International that has been revamped by Richard Palmer, should achieve interim profits of pounds 1.5m against a pounds 700,000 loss, the stockbroker Wise Speke believes. For the year to March profits of pounds 4.3m are expected by analyst Graham Dorward with pounds 5.3m in the following year. The shares edged ahead 1p to 74p.

(Graph omitted)

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