MARKET REPORT: Quiet session leaves red ink on many trading books

Although blue chips struggled to yet another peak it was, as most market players were quick to point out, a lousy trading day with the stock market probably out-of-pocket.

It is generally accepted it requires a share volume of around 600 million for the market to break even. A mere 509.2 million would, therefore, leave many trading books splashed with red ink.

For Footsie plotters such a loss was an irrelevance. They were more interested in the index's slow, painful progress towards the important 4,000 points level.

In the event Footsie ended 9.3 (after 12.9) points higher at 3,977.2 with a strong New York display largely ignored.

Blue chips continue to draw comfort from the encouraging run of company results, expectations of lower interest rates and the generally favourable economic outlook.

The wall of money argument is also being cited again. Some funds have cut back on their equity involvement with, it would appear, PDFM, a surprisingly high 15 per cent liquid.

Yet with institutional cash coffers overflowing fund managers could be forced to reconsider their equity approach. After all few trustees will look favourably on a fund manager who has failed to take advantage of share peaks in London and New York.

There are suggestions many fund managers are more interested in overseas markets. Yet on many yardsticks London offers better value to its foreign rivals.

NatWest Securities remains cautious. It decided to let it be known it was keeping its year end Footsie forecast at 3,700

Clients are advised to sell into strength.

As blue chips march to new highs, second liners experience a much more subdued existence. The FT-SE 250 index rose 8.7 to 4,462, more than 100 points from its peak, hit in April.

Unilever was one of the day's best performers, climbing 20p to a 1,406.5p peak. The Anglo-Dutch giant is still scoring from its US presentation and the proposed reshaping of its brands portfolio. But some ponder about increasing margin pressure in Europe, highlighted last week by Nestle, the Swiss giant.

Cable and Wireless responded to a Merrill Lynch forecast of 500p a share, gaining 7.5p to 448.5p.

Railtrack's strong run was halted by cautious weekend comment with the shares, backtracking 5p to 283p. Alleged price wars continued to ruffle superstores with Tesco down 3.5p to 302.5p and J Sainsbury 4p lower at 378.5p.

Blenheim was an outstanding performer after the company signalled bid talks were on again. The shares jumped 52.5p to 420p. HTV, on hopes of a Carlton Communications bid, gained 3.5p to 340p.

Easynet, the internet service provider, scored the day's best gain, up 52 per cent to 58.5p following signals of a possible Microsoft tie-up and an upbeat statement on its subscriber base.

Sears, results today, edged forward 2p to 97p. Talk of disposals and take over bids overshadowed what are expected to be decidedly poor figures. Dalgety, which duly produced weak profits, managed a 2p gain to 329p, largely on the back of vague stories of a Nestle bid.

Protean, a water treatment group, was the day's disaster story, down 80.5p to 169p following a warning of poor results from its German off- shoot. Four weeks ago it raised pounds 5.1m through a placing at 245p a share.

Pan Andean Resources added 11p to 135.5p (after 138.5p) as some detected encouraging smoke signals from its Bolivian exploration well. There are hopes the drilling results will be known in the next few days. The shares were in single figures before the market was gripped by the Bolivian excitement.

As PAR's star rose a former oil high flyer, Tuskar Resources, was suspended at 1.5p as it moved to take a 40 per cent stake in an oil mining lease off Nigeria. The vendor, the Camac/Allied group, will end with control of Tuskar. At the height of its Colombian oil adventure six years ago Tuskar's shares nudged 100p.

Freeport Leisure, running factory outlet shopping villages, gained 6p to 120.5p. James Kerr-Muir, ex-Kingfisher, is to become chairman. Profits were pounds 878,400 against pounds 102, 622.

Malaya, the garage group, shaded to 12p as a 7.5 per cent stake, part of the estate of a former director, was placed at around 8p.

Biotrace International making equipment to test for food and drink contamination, gained 1p to 67.5p; Baring Asset Management has an 11.18 per cent stake.

TAKING STOCK

rRPS, an environmental consultancy, is heading for record fee income this year with profits of pounds 2.9m (against pounds 2.2m) forecast by stockbroker Albert E Sharp. It has a host of blue chip clients. Latest coup was the buy out of HMSO where it conducted a due diligence exercise. As buyers become increasingly aware of contaminated land and pollution risks, RPS's due diligence work is growing. The shares held at 133.5p.

rDean Corporation, a housebuilder and property maintenance group, lifted half-year profits from pounds 43,933 to pounds 352, 876 and should nudge pounds 800,000 for the year. Chairman Stephen Dean is looking for acquisitions; he hopes to double the company's size in the next year. Shares gained 2.5p to 14p; the high is 17p.

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