Market report: Little seasonal cheer as Footsie suffers its worst Christmas

Shares failed to hit the festive jackpot this year. Usually they enjoy a spectacular spree in the Christmas run-up. Indeed a way to have made money in most years in the past two decades has been to buy Footsie as the second half of December arrived.

But not this year. On Christmas Eve the blue-chip index fell 35.9 points to 5,013.9. At one time it was down 45.2.

So, unless there is a more rewarding display next week, the yearly Footsie gamble will have been lost.

In the second part of the month Footsie has so far witnessed a 31.3 decline. It has, however, achieved a 182.1 gain since December dawned, drawing its strength in the first few days of the month.

The Christmas Eve display was the worst on the last trading day before Christmas since the Footsie was created in 1984.

New York's overnight decline ensured what is always little more than a token session opened hesitantly. With most offices operating with skeleton staffs and only a few fund managers bothering to leave the comfort of their homes there was little buying interest. Seaq volume was 241.6 million.

Sears, the struggling retailer which sold another chunk of its once renown shoe empire on Tuesday, accounted for 38 million. A single unmatched trade, possibly a bed and breakfast deal, of 37.7 million shares was the decisive influence. The price was a shade over 47p. It left Sears off 1p at 49.5p.

Premier Asset Management, a venture capitalist-style operation which used to be called Gabriel Trust, was responsible, if the publication was correct, for a further 28 million. The price held at 15.75p.

There was, however, considerable volatility as the market drew towards its traditional lunch time close. Order-driven trading was to blame; there did not appear to be many large trades in the final 30 minutes.

Blue Circle Industries celebrated its quick return to Footsie with a 6p gain to 338p and Rolls-Royce, up 2p at 230p, continued to draw strength from the Henderson Crosthwaite buy circular.

RioTinto, the resources group, had a bumpy ride although there was little trading. The shares fell 30.5p to 705p, just above their year's low. The group's 67 per cent owned Camalco off-shoot is buying control of an Italian aluminium refinery.

Two of Tuesday's best performers, insurer Sun Life & Provincial and mobile phone group Vodafone. gave ground. Sun Life fell 24p to 416p and Voders 10.5p to 440p.

Cadbury Schweppes had an unseasonable time, off 11.5p to 601p. It has been ruffled by Coca-Cola's pounds 500m swoop on Orangina, the French soft drink group owned by Pernod Ricard. Pernod is thought to be putting together a war chest to bid for some of Diageo's brands, such as Dewar's, the top selling Scotch whisky in the US.

Retailers remained unsettled on the early arrival of the "January" sales with Dixons down 6p at 602p. But International Greetings rose 15p to 442.5p after reporting Christmas sales of its cards, gift ware and crackers were up 10 per cent from last year.

Danka Business Systems had another poor session. Hit for six when it produced a surprise profit warning the shares had staged a modest recovery. Now it is being sued by US investors for allegedly making misleading statements.

Its warning last week sent the shares crashing 292.5p to 217.5p. They have since clawed their way back to 348.5p. The legal action pushed them to 222.5p. In the summer the shares were 787.5p.

Biocompatibles International, the hard-pressed health care group, managed a 27.5p gain to 455p. presumably a knee jerk reaction to a modest US buy. Galen, the health care group which this week arrived in the FTSE 250 index, added 14p to 338.5p and media buyer Aegis hardened 0.5p to 67.5p after the FMR investment group picked up nearly 1 per cent, taking its stake to 5.07 per cent.

There was a smattering of action on the under card. Fairway, a printer, jumped 21p to 61.5p following a bid approach and Tepnel Life Sciences, the health group suffering from a boardroom split, rose 5.5p to 37.5p.

Abacus Recruitment, which recently said profits were running ahead of expectations, put on 26p to a 260p peak.

Helical Bar, the property group, held at 558p. It has sold a London office property to a German group for pounds 27m. Forth Ports remained at 615p after the Scottish Office made favourable noises about its ambitious Leith waterfront development.

Manders, the ink group, was unchanged at 245p as bidder Flint Ink, a US group, picked up 8.27 per cent of the capital at 248p.