Market Report: New Year tips brighten a lacklustre day for Footsie

IT LOOKED at one time as if Footsie would reclaim the 6,000 points level, last visited in July.

But on a day renown for traditionally thin trading, blue chips were unable to hang on to their best levels and the index closed with a 74.3 gain to 5,941.5.

New Year tips, real and rumoured, provided some interest but as invariably happens at this time of the year offices existed with a skeleton staff. Many big hitters were away and those left in charge were more likely to make the type of precautionary move which often amplifies share movements.

The advent of the euro, prompting some big investors to sit on the sidelines, also restricted trading.

The Stock Exchange attempted to pierce the malaise by reporting it had enjoyed another record year with domestic volume up 2.2 per cent.

Supporting shares moved ahead. The mid cap index rose 30.7 to 4,843.5 and the small cap 9.3 to 2,061.7. Not for the first time General Electric Co was under scrutiny as it, and others, continued to play the euro defence game. The shares were at one time 39p higher at a 580p a share peak. They closed 8.5p up at 549.5p.

GEC is now said to be concentrating its corporate endeavours on four possible merger partners, including British Aerospace which has, on and off, been in the group's sights for years.

In fact six years ago, when BAe limped along at around 30p, GEC took a close interest in the then ailing group but decided not to bid. Others said to be in talks with GEC are Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, the US groups, and Thomson-CSF of France, part owned by the French government which is said to be keen for talks to open.

Peter Craine, GEC's director of government relations, said: "It is too early to say who the front runner is."

BAe, firm at 518p, was on the verge of clinching a deal with DaimlerChrysler of Germany before GEC barged into the fray.

Insurance shares had to contend with suggestions the holiday storms will cost the industry more than pounds 100m; GRE was off 6p at 344p.

British Petroleum was down 8p at 908.5p. Just one hurdle remains to be cleared before its huge merger with Amoco can go ahead - clearance from the US Federal Trade Commission.

There are hopes the Federal Trade Commission will stir today allowing the deal to be completed tomorrow. If tomorrow's deadline is missed it is hoped the merger will go through next week. The new behemoth's capitalisation will be around pounds 85bn, the biggest on the stock market.

Asda, up 4.25p to 163.25p, again responded to Wal-Mart bid rumours and Enterprise Oil, regarded as another takeover candidate, improved 5.5p to 293p.

As if to underline the low level of trading, the two shares leading the Footsie leader board were its most illiquid constituents.

Schroders rose 64p to 1,167p with volume put at 120,000 shares and the investment house's non voting shares gained 51.5p to 996.5p with just 7,597 shares on the screen.

Takeover activity in the holiday industry, plus hopes of a bookings stampede, lifted Thomson Travel 11.5p to 160.5p. The shares are still below the spring-time flotation price and the 199p touched soon afterwards.

On the day of England's surprising Test victory against Australia, cricket coverage became a live issue with Galaxy Media and Television Corporation hoping to catch the next world cup.

Galaxy, up 15p to 76.5p, said it may bid for the next two World Cup competitions and TC, which has won the contract to cover domestic Test matches for Channel 4, will "almost certainly" attempt to cover the World Cup. TC shares gained 15p to 235p.

Quadrant Healthcare slipped 2.5p to 77.5p after 16.7 million shares issued when a company called Andaris was acquired were sold at 77.5p. Nomura appears to have picked up the stock, lifting its stake to 28.17 per cent.

Zetters, thinking of splitting itself into separate bingo and football pool companies, lost 9p to 118.5p. United Carriers, where entrepreneur Luke Johnson has picked up 7.1 per cent, advanced 7p to 33.5p.

Takeover hopes again inspired European Motor, up 8p at 70p, and motor dealer DC Cook reversed 1.5p to 21.5p as a Henderson fund trimmed its stake to 7 per cent.

Trafficmaster, the vehicle security group, had an uncertain session, ending 21p lower at 532.5p.

A report that its new anti-theft device was unsafe found little sympathy with stockbroker Killik.

"We believe the concerns raised were over played and the dip in the price is an opportunity to buy," it said.

MSB International, the IT recruitment group, made further headway, up 47.5p to 357.5p. An upbeat trading statement earlier this month has lifted the shares from a 140p low.

SEAQ VOLUME: 286.5 million



ARTISAN, the house building and pub/restaurant refurbishment business that demerged from what is now Environmental Property Services earlier this month, is due to start work in January on contracts worth pounds 3.8m.

They include a new Belgo restaurant at London's Ladbroke Grove and a Pizza Express at Amersham.

Artisan shares have fallen from around 6p to 4p since the demerger while EPS is 8.75p.