Market Report: Sainsbury relegated to back shelf as Tesco delights

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The Independent Online
As Tesco delighted the stock market with another confident profits performance the shares of its arch rival, J Sainsbury, suffered a humiliating cut-price session.

In brisk trading the superstores chain, which has been forced to cede its number one position to Tesco, fell 5p to 328p with, it is thought, two institutions taking the opportunity to unload. The shares have come down from 407p in August and were riding at 582p four years ago.

The other superstore leaders were in fine form. Tesco rose 11.5p to 364p, pulling Asda 4.5p higher to 112p and Safeway 4.5p to 369p.

Sainsbury, judging by Tesco's comments, is still trailing its arch-rival in the fierce superstores battle and the market's unease about its trading performance was compounded by rumours of problems at its Homebase operation.

BSkyB, the satellite television broadcaster, was another looking bruised. The shares fell 24p to 585.5p as, it was thought, the company's stockbroker lowered its profit estimates. BZW was said to have cut this year's figures from pounds 325m to pounds 302m.

The market is also fretting about delays over decoder boxes and the Astra satellite. Anxiety about the awesome US debt mountain of the Rupert Murdoch empire is another unsettling influence. Mr Murdoch's need for cash has already prompted him, in effect, to mortgage part of his BSkyB stake.

The rest of the market had another uneventful session with Footsie falling 2.4 points to 4,269.3.

Lasmo did its best to disturb the lethargy. Confirmation it had discovered a gas field in Pakistan lifted the shares 11p to 234p. It was, however, another example of being better to travel than arrive. Rumours of the oil group's Pakistan success flowed around the market last month, sending the shares gushing to 258.5p.

British Steel had a difficult session. It was the busiest traded Footsie share, falling 7p to 152.5p. Profit downgradings, on the back of sterling's strength, did the damage. Merrill Lynch was one investment house to lower its estimate, cutting this year's forecast from pounds 280m to pounds 240m.

The continuing power of the pound took its toll elsewhere. Allied Domecq and Guinness weakened. Vickers also gave ground.

Health shares had a much more subdued session. High-fliers Drew Scientific and Tepnel Life came nearer to earth with Drew off 13.5p to 134p, against 240p last week, and Tepnel down 23p to 102.5p.

Williams, described as a "focused conglomerate" by Dresdner Kleinwort Benson edged forward 2p to 317.5p. The securities house says the shares are cheap, assuming the bid for Chubb Security gets Whitehall clearance.

Laura Ashley, the retailer, had an intriguing run. The shares rose 13p to 144.5p on persistent buying with one investment house seemingly prepared to pick up all the stock available. After hitting 219p in October the shares have fallen steadily and before the buying burst were bumping along at their lowest for a year.

Danka Business Systems put on 22.5p to 490p with Panmure Gordon support. The stockbroker believes the price could return to 600p.

Allied Colloids moved forward 5p to 129p after NatWest Securities said the chemical group was "in a stronger position today than at any point over the past six years and is much better placed to improve profits".

The sale of 3.4 million shares by Tom Trickett, one of the founders of holiday group Airtours, was absorbed with the price moving ahead 3p to 943.5p. Mr Trickett retired from the company in 1994. He sold at 925p.

Coral Products, a plastics group, had the dubious distinction of providing the day's profit warning; the shares fell 16p to 42.5p.

Rowlinson Securities, a building group, jumped 65p to 267.5p after disclosing talks were on which could produce a bid. Rumours the successful but low- profile business, had attracted a predator started to circulate earlier this year.

Brockbank, the Lloyds managing agent, gained 32.5p to 562.5p after Mid Ocean, a Bermuda based reinsurer, moved further to gain full control. Mid Ocean already has 51 per cent. Oriel, an insurance broker which has been involved in takeover talks, jumped 11.5p to 112.5p.

Newcomers did well. United Overseas, placed at 50p, ended at 60p and Sibir Energy, an oil operation, traded at 15.5p from the 10p offer price.

Wedderburn, a property group which has moved into oil trading, returned at 30p. The shares were suspended at 24p.