Market Report: Rights talk puts an end to the rates euphoria

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A WAVE of rights issue rumours and the poor response to the pounds 2.5bn gilts auction destroyed the stock market's interest rate euphoria yesterday.

After a bright start shares milled around uncertainly, and by the close the FT-SE index of the leading 100 shares was down 3.2 points at 2,832.5.

But the index mirroring the next 250 shares stretched to yet another peak and there were again some interesting performances among the fringe constituents.

The base rate change prompted James Capel to lift its year-end FT-SE 100 forecast from 3,000 to 3,200. But Barclays de Zoete Wedd held at 3,000.

The rights rumours, encouraged by Tuesday's upsurge, embraced old and new candidates. The Commercial Union insurance group was the subject of the strongest rumour with a US investment house, thought to be Goldman Sachs, pointing to a cash call being announced today.

CU, in heavy trading, was at one time down 25p. The close was 614p, off 19p. Other insurers, with perhaps more pressing needs to repair their balance sheets, were caught up in the rights talk.

General Accident fell 8p to 584p, Guardian Royal Exchange 5p to 171p and Sun Alliance 7p to 339p. But Royal Insurance, often a rights favourite, was unchanged at 285p following a NatWest Securities push.

Allied-Lyons, Asda, Burton, Glaxo Holdings and Kingfisher were others in the frame.

The gilts auction attracted subsriptions of just 1.18 times. The interest rate cut, just 24 hours ahead of the auction, caught many gilt firms on the wrong foot and some clearly suffered heavy losses.

The inflationary implications of a weak pound and 6 per cent base rates again inspired index linked gilts, up to pounds 1 higher.

Union Discount gained 6p to 106p, in part reflecting hopes that the mystery suitor, whose presence was disclosed two months ago, will produce bid terms. A profit upgrading from pounds 5m to pounds 7m, thought to be by Smith New Court, also helped.

Standard Chartered retreated 12p to 657p as the story went round that Lloyds Bank was attempting to place its 4.68 per cent shareholding, a legacy of its unsuccessful assault in 1986. There was no indication that a deal had been completed. Lloyds was 3p down at 532p.

Reuters rose another 18p to 1,366p in response to the apparent favourable reception given to its new equity information service. The shares have climbed 53p in two days.

Aerospace stocks were under a cloud following the Boeing production cuts. Hoare Govett trimmed its Smith Industries forecasts, leaving the shares 8p down at 351p. TI Group, where S G Warburg has made cautious noises, lost 8p tp 285p.

Thorn EMI, unsettled by an agency cross at 815p, ended 15p down at 818p. Tadpole Technology gained 8p to 224p as IBM proved it still had an eye for a deal by exercising its right to buy shares at 65p. The troubled US computer group could end up with 12.9 per cent of Tadpole.

MFI Furniture, expected to produce interim operating profits down from pounds 24m to pounds 18m today, fell 4p to 135p, ruffled by a hovering line of three million.

Argyll Group, the Safeway supermarket chain, advanced 5p to 403p. BZW is thought to be preparing to upgrade its profit hopes to pounds 415m for this year and pounds 455m next.

A Hoare buy note sent BT 7.5p higher to 406.5p. But Cable and Wireless, on Hong Kong worries, and Vodafone Group, reacting to US health stories, gave ground.

Upmarket housebuilder Berkeley Group put on 13p to 341p as international investor George Soros, the man said to have made a killing when sterling was devalued, emerged as a 3.19 per cent shareholder. Mirror Group Newspapers is another Soros investment.

Coats Viyella rose 2p to 217p as S G Warburg moved from hold to buy. Peek, the electrical group, gained 2p to 66p, reflecting meetings with analysts.

Trio Holdings, the revamped investment trust which embraces the Martin Bierbaum moneybroking business, jumped 8p to 75p. The shares have made steady progress since they returned to market two weeks ago.

Interest is evident in Zambia Consolidated Copper and Zambia Copper Investments. ZCC is controlled by the Zambian government, which may decide to privatise the world's fifth-largest copper mine. If it does Anglo American would be interested. Credit Lyonnais Laing reckons the 'twins' are cheap - ZCC rose 10p to 223p and ZCI, with a big ZCC stake, 8p to 67p.

Confusion on the oil pitch. Pittencrieff has picked up a 16.6 per cent interest in Aberdeen Petroleum at 12.5p a share. It presumably wants AP as a quoted oil arm. AP is being thwarted in its attempts to take over the Brabant oil group and has received an unwanted offer from a US group. Last year Pittencrieff bid unsuccessfully for Ambrit International. AP rose 1p to 12p.

Kenmare Resources held at 7.5p. It is widely believed a leading Australian resources group is on the verge of buying into its Mozambique mineral sands development. An agreement has already been concluded for a financial consortium to put up cash to get Kenmare's Mozambique graphite operation off the ground. It could be in production by the year-end.