MARKET REPORT: Ragged ranks of bears caught out by Mid-East buyer

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The Independent Online
A Middle Eastern buyer helped wrong-foot the bears. The increasingly ragged army of gloomsters was confident that equities would tumble in the wake of New York's Friday set-back.

But once again Black Monday failed to materialise. An early 64.9-point Footsie fall had become a 19.8 plus by early afternoon although at the close the index was, admittedly a trifle uncertainly, clinging to a mere 0.6 gain.

The appearance of the overseas share shopper was a steadying influence. His orders appeared to be spread between a number of investment houses.

Selling was modest and with the early fall largely the result of market- makers' mark-downs it did not take much buying interest to prevent the sort of fall many pundits so confidently predicted.

There is no doubt many fund managers have got the stock market spectacularly wrong this year. Their growing discomfort is illustrated by the Merrill Lynch fund managers' survey. Once again many of the 68 managers interviewed advocated buying Government stocks and selling equities.

They also declared a tendency to follow the Mercury Asset Management and PDFM route and pile into cash. Many managers said they were adding to their cash balances for the first time since last summer.

On the day the Merrill Lynch survey was published last month the managers contacted offered almost identical downbeat views. Then Footsie stood at 4799.5.

Indeed the blue chip index's dramatic advance from 4,118.5 at the start of the year has been achieved against a persistent bearish chorus from many fund managers and strategists. In January bulls were few and far between with the NatWest Securities team among the most adventurous with a Footsie forecast of 4,600.

Overseas buyers, who look upon London as offering good value as well as stability, have caught many experts on the hop and left them trying to justify what have become increasingly uncomfortably (and unprofitable) positions.

Financials have led this year's Footsie charge, supported by drugs and utilities. The rest of the market has been left out in the cold.

There are increasing signs a subtle shift of emphasis could be under way and the long-neglected second- and third-liners could at last be set to chase after their peers.

After Friday's sharp gain the FTSE 250 index rose another 21.1 to 4,671.6, a peak; the FTSE SmallCap index put on 8.9 to 2,218.71, a long way from its high.

Stories continue to circulate of large investment houses looking more keenly at supporting shares and, in some cases, selling blue chips, to buy them. Fidelity and Standard Life are two institutions said to be taking the view that bargains lurk outside Footsie.

Psion, on reports its new hand-held computer is taking hold, led the FTSE 250 index with a 22.5p gain to 306.5p. Vickers, the defence and Rolls- Royce cars group, was just behind, on the Independent on Sunday report that it is close to selling its medical systems division, clearing the way for a bid from British Aerospace. The shares jumped 14.5p top 213.5p.

Bid hopes also excited Dalgety, the struggling pet food group, and Avis Europe, the car rental group. Dalgety gained 16p to 266.5p and Avis 5p to 152p.

The Avis action was inspired by the agreed US bid for EuroDollar which propelled the shares 69.5p higher to 188p.

Leigh Interests, the waste disposal group up 27.5p to 146.5p, was another caught in the bid frame; it disclosed an approach, but as yet no proposal, from the French-owned General Utilities.

BT was at one time down 23p to 368.5p. The fall was due to dividend payments being stripped out. The group, struggling to come to terms with the shock profit warning from its wannabe partner MCI, has declared a special 35p dividend and is due to pay an 11.95p final. The price ended just 4p lower at 387.5p.

Football shares reflected the ups and downs of the season's kick-off with Burden Leisure, still listed as a packaging and paper company, gaining 5.5p to 40.5p on Bolton Wanderers' victory over Southampton, owned by Southampton Leisure, off 3p at 83p.

The sharp overnight Tokyo fall ruffled shares with Far Eastern links; the Fleming Japan investment trust fell 5.5p to 196p.

British Vita, the chemical group, has made a small bolt-on acquisition, buying Silvergate Plastics of Wrexham. The shares shaded to 231.5p.

Taking Stock

Trocadero, the leisure group under new management, has sold its stake in Copyright Promotions, the Mr Men character merchandising operation.

In March last year it acquired a 22.5 per cent interest. Yesterday its remaining 18 per cent was placed at 80p, producing pounds 1.8m.

Copyright held at 87p and the Troc, where ex-First Leisure Corporation chief executive John Conlan has moved in as chairman, firmed to 24p.

Delyn, the property group facing an unwanted takeover bid, seems to have found an unexpected ally - the Compco property group. It has picked up a 1 per cent shareholding and let it be known it is not in favour of the 110p offer from Newport. Delyn, which has rejected the bid, fell 4.5p to 95p.