MARKET REPORT: Second liners reach new peaks as Footsie passes 4,200

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The Independent Online
After much huffing and puffing Footsie broke through the 4,200 points barrier. In busy trading it overcame a minor bout of indigestion around lunch time to close 10.2 higher at 4,207.7.

New York's continuing strength helped; so did the interest rate standstill.

But influences closely related to the stock market were important. One was the smoothness of the big Guinness sale when Goldman Sachs encountered not the slightest difficulty placing the 135 million shares the French luxury goods group LVMH decided to unload. Another was the unremarkable expiry of the January Footsie options.

The possibility of the Guinness placing has for long hovered. The market was convinced LVMH, despite the weakness of the drink giant's shares, was keen to cash in at least some of its chips. In the event Goldman took the shares from LVMH, placing them with institutions and Guinness which paid 414p for 44 million (2.3 per cent of its capital). LVMH, once owning 24 per cent of Guinness, is left with 14.2 per cent and, it is suspected, will sell more stock when it is allowed to do so. Guinness fell 4p to 432p, just 2p above its year's low.

There had been uneasy feelings in some quarters about the Footsie expiry. It is not unknown for volatile trading to occur near settlement time as large investment houses struggle to protect their positions. But this time round the expiry attracted little attention.

It was not only blue chips which were in record breaking form. Second and third liners were for once at the forefront of the advance with the FTSE 250 index at last hitting a new peak, up 17.5 to 4,583.4. The supporting index has lagged as Footsie established a string of record highs. The last FTSE 250 peak was hit in April.

Supporting shares made a good start to last year. But they tended to drift for much of the time after April's high.

The strong opening 1997 performance will bring relief to many bulls. There is a strong belief the first few weeks of the year set the pattern for the rest of the 12 months. Even so, many observers are pointing to a correction, perhaps even a ragged retreat, before the spring.

New York despite the rhetoric of the gloom merchants, continues to defy gravity and during London opening shares were riding at new highs.

NatWest Securities expect Footsie to trade in the 3,800 to 4,200 range in the first half year, moving to 4,600 by the year-end.

The string of festive trading statements continued with Storehouse, under pressure lately following negative comments, gaining 17.5p to 275p. Blacks Leisure's trading statement lifted the shares 16.5p to a 401.5p peak. MeesPierson raised its profits forecast from pounds 9.25m to pounds 10m.

Hanson, again heavily traded, rose 3p to 92p and building materials group Redland continued to recover as the likes of Barclays de Zoete Wedd, Panmure Gordon and HSBC James Capel decided it was over sold. The shares rose 8,5p to 342.5p.

The P&O shipping group was less fortunate. UBS downgraded its profit estimates from pounds 410m to pounds 375m and moved its stance from buy to hold; the shares sunk 18p to 624p.

The strictures of the industry regulator shunted Railtrack into the sidings, down 15p to 398.5p. Prism Rail again moved ahead on the buzz it had won another franchise; the shares rose 50p to 580p.

Dividend cut fears lowered Lucas Varity 4.5p to 216p and, like Guinness, Allied Domecq and Grand Metropolitan wilted in the face of sterling's strength.

Biocompatibles International, the health group, moved further ahead, up 42.5p to 905p. There is talk of a deal with Glaxo Wellcome and Kleinwort Benson is known to be positive.

SR Gent, the clothing group, fell 6p to 35.5p as the market grew tired of waiting for the signalled bid. The shares were above 60p last month. A warning of up to a pounds 1m loss slashed Multimedia 16.5p to 18.5p and a profit warning from Corporate Executive, which came to market in November, cut the shares 1.25p to 2.75p.

Ask Central, the restaurant chain jumped 25p to 187.5p, a peak. The Kaye family, which has established a number of successful eating out concepts, has a major interest.

SkyNet, raising pounds 1.7m through a rights issue, returned to Ofex. The shares closed at 50p with the nil paid rights at 1p. The car security group was suspended when a move to AIM collapsed. The SFA is investigating trading in its shares.

Taking Stock

rVero, a maker of bits and pieces for telephones, has experienced a crossed line since its interim figures showed growth slowing. The shares hit 171.5p, against a 220p flotation in November, 1995. They struggled higher yesterday, up 11.5p to 185p, on vague talk trading last year was a little better than expected. The group should, it is thought, be reaping rewards from its links with Ericson, its biggest client. Profits have been forecast at pounds 13.6m.

rWilliam Nash, a property and wallpaper group, held at 190p. Stockbroker Beeson Gregory believes on a sum-of-the-parts valuation Nash shares are worth 296p and, suggests analyst Antony Legge, the market price should be around 240p.

Profits for last year are forecast at pounds 2.9m with pounds 3.1m this year.