Market Report: Rally peters out as nerves take hold

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The Independent Online
AN UNEASY, roller-coaster session left Footsie clinging to a slender gain. Determined attempts to stage significant rallies petered out and by the close the index had to be content with a modest 29.4 points recovery to 5,462.2.

It got off to a fine start and within minutes achieved a 61.5 gain. But that proved to the be day's high point.

After the deluge of indifferent domestic data there had been hopes that yesterday's round of rather more encouraging developments and a more steady performance by overseas markets would bolster confidence.

But the stock market was too tense and nervous to allow any realistic display of optimism to seep through to shares.

Even British Petroleum was dragged into the morass. At one time the shares were up 28p. Then American arbitrageurs started to play and the gain was steadily whittled away until the shares were left nursing a 1p fall at 794p. Still the oil giant, as befits what will be the nation's biggest company when the Amoco take over goes through, made a big contribution to the market's trading volume, with Seaq putting turnover at more than 73 million shares. Other oils failed to attract the expected support with Lasmo off 15.75p at 200.25p and Enterprise Oil retreating 4.5p to 440.5p.

The mid cap index managed moderate headway but the small cap had another bruising session as investors continued to dump shares. It ended 8 lower at 2,359.7, only 39.5 above its year's low.

The shortage of liquidity in small cap shares is exaggerating many of the falls. In uncertain times investors are often prepared to dump shares if they are still hugging profits.

The smaller companies had a great run earlier this year and even when the liquidity problem reduces the price investors expect they are often still prepared to trade.

Vaux, the brewing and hotel group, is not a particularly liquid stock. Yet it attracted a 1 million-plus turnover as the shares stretched to a new high, encouraged by continuing take over speculation.

The price closed at 359.5p, up 21p. The latest suggestion is a deal next week. Some are shooting for a bid - Whitbread is the favourite -but there is also a growing belief new chief executive Martin Grant will attempt to realise shareholder value by demerging the highly successful Swallow hotel side from the brewing and pub operations.

Swallow is the jewel in the Vaux crown. It could well star as a stand- alone quoted company and remove the take over pressure from the group. With Whitbread, as well as Bass, keen to increase their hotel portfolios shares of an independent Swallow could have an exciting run.

Earlier this year Vaux admitted it had received an "unsolicited" approach which was subsequently abandoned. Almost certainly the rebuffed bidder was Stakis, the casino and hotel chain. It could be tempted to return if Vaux agrees bid terms with another group.

Stakis as well as the two -brewers would be unlikely to retain Vaux's breweries and pubs if they acquired the group.

Dennis, the fire engine maker, retreated 11.5p to 463.5p after it became clear Volvo was not prepared to add fire power to any Henlys' revised bid. The Swedes, it seems, are content to restrain their involvement to buying 10 per cent of Henlys.

Leisure groups Springwood and Waterfall called off their merger talks. Some would say not before time. In the few days the two have been talking Springwood has fallen 41p and Waterfall 10p. But Booker, involved in possible bid talks, rose a further 8p to 257.5p.

Tesco firmed 1.5p to 171.5p as the superstore chain's two stockbrokers, BT Alex.Brown and Morgan Stanley, trimmed their profit forecasts.

Selfridges, demerged from Sears last month, ended its decline from its 236.5p launch price when British Land emerged as a 3.14 per cent stakeholder. The department store, which had fallen below its asset value, rose 17p to 221.5p.

Figures helped Shire Pharmaceutical to a 39.5p gain to 362.5p although the company still faces problems following a fire at a US plant.

Glass maker Pilkington cracked again, hitting an 84p low and JD Wetherspoon, the pub chain, went to a year's low, falling 6p to 238.5p.

Independent Insurance, ahead of what are expected to be impressive interim figures today, firmed to 291.5p.

Two newcomers arrived, both via reverse takeovers by cash shells. Talisman House traded at 5.5p against a 6p suspension. Once called Captain OM Watts, a yacht chandler, it now embraces stockbroker Ellis & Partners and financial boutique Clifton Financial, two operations specialising in handling small companies.

Hacas, which offers advisory services on housing and an assured homes business, reversed into General Industries. The shares traded at 39.5p against a 36p suspension.




AMBIENT MEDIA, which was traded at 92.5p when it arrived in June, put on 3p to 67.5p. It has emerged as a major beneficiary of a deal giving NCR the right to use the front and reverse of National Westminster Bank ATM cash receipts for advertisements. An Ambient off-shoot has been given the task of selling the advertising space. Five other institutions are expected to follow the NatWest led.

ANTONOV, developing a gear box, accelerated 13p to 95p. The shares have been as high as 144p. This week Antonov fixed up its ninth licensing deal and Credit Lyonnais, the company's recently appointed stockbroker, has initiated coverage by putting a 300p target on the shares.

FIRESTONE DIAMONDS, the South African explorer and producer, is expected to make its debut tomorrow. Shares were placed at 114p.