Market Report: Post-Budget boom hits a wall of weak results

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The Independent Online
THE BUDGET share boom came to an abrupt end as a quartet of disappointing results underlined the paucity of the economic recovery the Chancellor is striving to encourage.

This week's astonishing advance has prompted many to take the view that the stock market needs time to consolidate and quietly reflect.

The results, plus a subdued interest rate move by the Germans, gave the pessimists their chance and, with many market makers desperately short of stock and anxious to get prices down, the FT-SE 100 index swung from a peak of 3,258.3 points, up 25.1, to a 3,223.9 close, down 9.3.

But the undertone remained firm. Many strategists expect further progress, with talk of a 4,000 index level at the end of next year.

The inevitable reverse brings to an end five days of remarkable progress that lifted the index more than 150 points.

For the second day running trading was heavy, with Seaq putting volume at 1.0484 billion shares, a two-day turnover of nearly 2.3 billion. Not since the heady days of the UK's departure from the exchange rate mechanism has the market enjoyed such hectic trading.

Hanson, down 16p at 268.5p, was the most prominent of the poor relations. Racal Electronics, off 29p at 160p; MEPC, 27p at 523p, and Anglian, the window group, 22p at 331p, were the other casualties. General Electric, which failed to dim the market's enthusiasm on Wednesday with disappointing figures, followed a 13p fall with another subdued performance, down 1p at 319.5p.

But the Royal Bank of Scotland proved the market is still quick to respond to success. Its results left the shares 33p higher at 428p, dragging the rest of the sector higher. And Grand Metropolitan gained 13p to 430p on its figures.

The day's newcomers did well. Royal Doulton, the fine china group, started at 193p, climbing to 207p. On Demand, an electronic information provider, reached 117p from a 78p placing.

There were contrasting performances on the leisure pitch. Airtours, the holiday group, rose to a new 473p peak, with at least one market maker short of 500,000 shares.

The market maker appears to have been caught on the wrong foot by the Budget travel tax, which is not expected to have much impact on industry profits. Any trading slowdown could be offset by interest earned from the tax while it is held on deposit.

The securities group's discomfort has been accentuated by anticipation of Airtours results, due on Monday. They are expected to be impressive, with estimates stretching to pounds 55m before taking in the cost of the unsuccessful Owners Abroad bid.

But Ladbroke's ragged retreat continued. The shares lost a further 7p to 144p despite an attempt to calm market jitters over its Hilton Hotel division and its rush to embrace the FID dividend scheme, which means some institutions will be unable to claim tax back on their dividends.

Michael Hirst, head of Hilton, who sold 125,000 shares, said the deal was prompted by 'personal financial planning' and not related to his future at Hilton. Ladbroke is looking for a chief executive for the hotel side and there are rumours that Mr Hirst intends to depart.

Food retailers remained nervous after the Argyll results, although the Safeway chain managed a 3p gain to 259p. In a weak food manufacturing sector Booker fell 8p to 396p as Barclays de Zoete Wedd lowered this year's profit forecast by pounds 2m to pounds 88m and next year's by pounds 10m to pounds 92m. Northern Foods and Unigate weakened on the cautious Dairy Crest comments on milk distribution.

Broadcasting shares were active. Yorkshire TV gained 4p to 183p on talk that LWT (Holdings), where Granada has 20 per cent, may bid. Granada, results next week, improved 14p to 489p.

Vickers shaded 1p to 151p, with BZW cutting this year's estimate from pounds 32m to pounds 30m and next from pounds 50m to pounds 41m. British Aerospace, showing analysts the Airbus Industrie operation, fell 12p to 401p. T&N, with a fund manager visit to its German business, was firm at 185.5p.

P&O, buying control of a Chinese container terminal, fell 17p to 610p, with Smith New Court appearing to lead the selling.

Micro Focus, the computer group, dropped 202p to 1,058p following a meeting with analysts.

Gresham Telecomputing, seeking a chief executive, was a nervous market, down 25p at 117p. Linread, the fastener group, fell 8p to 98p on a profit warning.

Bakyrchik, seeking gold in Kazakhstan, jumped 25p to 260p. The shares were sold at 120p in August. Minmet, which has developed forestry interests in this country, is another to turn its attention to the former Soviet Union. It has formed a joint venture to mine in the Altai Republic of Russia. Aminex, intent on developing a Russian oil business, has a Minmet stake. The shares rose 1p to 6p.

The FT-SE 100 index ended 9.3 points down at 3,223.9. The

FT-SE 250 index rose 0.3 to 3,565.9. Turnover was 1,048.4 million shares with 44,612 deals. The account ends on 10 December with settlement on 20 December. Gilts gave ground in light trading.

Not for the first time, Barr & Wallace Arnold, the leisure and motor distribution group, is attracting speculative interest. There is talk of a share equalisation that could pave the way for a takeover. But some believe bid talks are already taking place. The ordinary shares edged ahead 3p to 558p and the 'A' non-voting shares gained 11p to 263p, a two-day gain of 24p.

Indications are that the revamp and rescue rights issue for Maddox, the struggling computer group, are winning shareholder support and it is expected they will be approved at tomorrow's meeting. The company is changing its name to Wakebourne and Hugo Biermann is resigning as chairman. There are hopes of profits of pounds 2.5m this year. The shares held at 1.25p.

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