Market Report: Rouble trouble turns the screens red

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The Independent Online
EQUITIES WERE on the slippery slope again. After two days of progress the roller-coaster stock market was hit by the latest misfortunes of the Russian rouble.

As the currency's plight deepened, City dealing screens saw red with Footsie at one time down 152.7 points. In the final half-hour it staged a rally of sorts, closing 109 off at 5,545.4, still above Red Friday's calculation.

Weakness in Hong Kong despite further state intervention, and in Tokyo, on top of uncertainty in New York, piled on the agony.

Sterling failed to offer any comfort and currency-sensitive stocks weakened. Engineers had to contend with a round of profit downgradings by stockbroker Williams de Broe.

The activity was not, as is so often the case, confined to Footsie constituents. Supporting shares were hammered: the mid cap index tumbled 76.7 points to 5,023.6, its lowest since February, and the small cap index was dumped 34.4 to 2,251.4, a new low for the year.

Merrill Lynch claims that company directors are not so worried about the outlook as professional investors appear to be. In its latest survey the investment bank said the August correction had prompted directors to buy shares of their companies. "They have a good track record," says the investment house.

Once again trading was light. The summer holidays continue to decimate the ranks of investors, and with many dealers also away the big share price swings witnessed so far this month have often been achieved on modest turnover.

The order-driven trading system also tends to increase volatility, even when it is functioning without the embarrassment of rogue trades. They still occur. At one time Abbey National was off 86p following an incorrect input. The shares were among the handful of Footsie constituents to close with a plus, up 5p at 1,122p.

Many banks took a beating as worries about defaulting nations eroded confidence. UK banks are not heavily exposed to Russia but that is, of course, not the only economy causing concern. Indonesia and Thailand pose more of a threat to them. The Russian restructuring package, not as unfavourable to foreigners as had been feared, could prompt more selling of overseas instruments.

National Westminster was the worst-hit clearer, falling 51p (after 70p) to 1,146p; Barclays lost 39p to 1,535p.

Schroders, which seems to enjoy treble-digit moves, led the Footsie loser board but managed to restrain its fall to 98p at 1,442p. Close Brothers, the merchant bank, was one to shrug off the gloom, hardening 16p to 713.5p on takeover speculation.

Rolls-Royce, after Tuesday's take-off, lost altitude with a 15p decline to 221p and engineer Siebe retreated 11p to 219p. Diageo, the spirits group, and Bass, the brewer and hotelier, were victims of the Asian crisis, slumping 26p to 639p and 36p to 910p respectively.

Even supermarkets, usually safe havens in times of international stress and strain, could not resist the relentless tug of the bears. Data from the Institute of Grocery Distribution suggesting that grocery sales fell 2.7 per cent last week filtered into the market. With analysts trimming profit forecasts the IGD comments help lop Asda 4.5p to 175p, Safeway 5.5p to 312p, J Sainsbury 16p to 506p and Tesco 7.5p to 159p.

Oils were weak with British Petroleum falling 26.5p to 803p. Cairn Energy lost another 16.5p to 114p but British Borneo, reflecting its recent strike, put on 13p to 276p.

Soco International, with former Soviet Union interests, was one to illustrate how a little selling can devastate a price. The company has 49.3 million shares in issue, yet on a turnover of only 43,815 shares the price collapsed 45p to 111.5p.

The best-performing Footsie stock was Smiths Industries, up 22p to 675p on the back of the British Airways/Airbus Industrie deal. It is one of the constituents in danger of being relegated in next month's Footsie review.

Associated British Foods, Marks & Spencer and Kingfisher were supported on defensive merits and General Electric Co edged higher on favourable Merrill Lynch comments.

Vodafone enjoyed another run of cheerful analytical comments, but the chorus of praise could not prevent a 20p fall to 907p. Merrill Lynch suggest a 1,000p target and Morgan Stanley 1,035p. The company has another investment presentation due next month.

Allied Carpets plunged 21.5p to 53p following its reduced profits and accountancy problems. Tie Rack was cut 10p to a 26.5p low as Standard Life sold around 1.4 per cent of the capital; the rump found a new home with the Ahmed H Fitaihi Co lifting its interest to 5.77 per cent. Standard now has 4.5 per cent.

Henlys, the vehicle group bidding for Dennis, reversed 3.5p to 479p after Volvo, planning to go to 10 per cent, arrived at 8.2 per cent.

First Leisure firmed 5.5p to 254p on reports it is near to clinching a deal for the sale of its resorts division, ranging from the Blackpool Tower to Southend Pier. The disposal is expected to net pounds 120m.

SEAQ VOLUME: 671.7m

SEAQ TRADES: 53,315

GILTS INDEX: n/a

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