Market Report: Second rank marked up as Footsie falters

SECOND-LINE shares, for so long deep in the doldrums, are staging a gentle but remarkable comeback.

As Footsie paused, unimpressed by the Gordon Brown dialogue, the mid cap index scored a 23.9-point gain to 4,911.7, its seventh consecutive gain and its 17th advance since it fell to its year's low 18 trading days ago.

The run demonstrates the feeling that many of the 250 mid cap shares were hit too hard in the summer slide. They are, however, still a long way from their June peak of 5,966.6. The small cap shares have also stirred, but are also far from their high.

Footsie hardly moved during the Chancellor's statement, hovering 8.5 points lower. After the Chancellor sat down it slipped back further, reflecting New York weakness, and finished a rather downbeat session off 21.6 at 5,503.9. At lunchtime the index was up 41 points. Government stocks achieved gains of nearly pounds 1.

The Chancellor's proposed employee share-buying incentives and plans for lower corporation tax made little impact.

Problems on the retail front, with Marks & Spencer the latest victim, weighed much more heavily on sentiment. M&S, with interim profits lower than expected and a warning that the year's profits would be "substantially" down, tumbled 45p (after 60.25p) to 404p.

Its performance set alarm bells ringing over Boots, with interims tomorrow. The market expected a little-changed pounds 255m, but after M&S there were worries that its calculations were too optimistic. The shares dropped 28p to 881p.

Retail shares have taken a battering as confidence has ebbed away. They were cut again following the M&S discomfort: fashion chain Next lost 22p to 493p and Debenhams, the department store group, 13p to 378.5p. Suggestions that ABN Amro is stuck with more than 5 per cent of Storehouse as a result of a deal which went wrong knocked the shares 5p to 170p.

British Petroleum's results were given a warm welcome and with index- chasing funds still in evidence the shares climbed 10.5p to 905.5p. At one point they were 37p up.

HSBC, the banking giant, attracted buyers, up 76p to 1,513p. Barclays also featured in a firm banking sector, 46p higher to 1,300p.

Telecoms were again on form. Vodafone's sales link with Tesco led to a 14p gain to 853p and Securicor gained 10p to 475p with one investment house, thought to be CSFB, hanging a 540p price on the shares. Computers also moved ahead.

Ladbroke responded to favourable comments from Sutherlands, gaining 4.75p to 231p. The stockbroker regards the shares as undervalued, with profits of pounds 265m likely this year and pounds 295m next. Last year the betting and hotel group produced pounds 226.3m.

More sterling weakness benefited exporters. Imperial Chemical Industries hardened 23p to 585p and British Aerospace 18p to 475p.

British Biotech, the hard-pressed drugs group, firmed 1.5p to 43p as HSBC sold its 3.65 per sent stake. Interims are next week. BriBio shares were 145p earlier this year and two years ago touched 326.5p. Biotrace added 10p to 112.5p on its new system for testing for contamination.

The takeover bid for drinks group Matthew Clark finally appeared with America's Canandaigua Brands, the Paul Masson wine group, offering 243p a share; the price rose 48p to 239.5p. But bid excitement evaporated at builders merchant SIG, down 7p to 138.5p, as the management buyout was abandoned.

BICC, the subject of takeover speculation last week, slipped 1.5p to 53.5p. A meeting with analysts is due next week. Mayflower, winner of the battle for Dennis, gained 5p to 141.5p; it is thought to be holding investment meetings.

Engineer Glynwed International rose 3p to 179.5p, responding to Henderson Crosthwaite support.

Hillsdown, the restructured food group, hardened 4p to 87p on talk that it was near to completing disposals worth pounds 140m. The two businesses for the chop are Ross Breeders, a chick-rearing operation and the Continental Bakeries unit. The pounds 160m sale of its furniture companies is also thought to be only weeks away. Last month Hillsdown demerged its Fairview housebuilding arm and Terranova, a fresh foods concern.

NFC, the old National Freight Corporation, put on 8p to 125.5p with support from BT Alex.Brown. It is the first time in five years that the investment bank's analyst, Richard Hannah, has been bullish on the stock.

A cautious Nationwide Building Society housing survey hit housebuilders, with Barratt Developments down 8.5p at 217.5p.

Darby, the building materials group, was the day's major market casualty, slumping 41.5p to 49p after warning that second-half profits would fall "substantially below" those last year.

SEAQ VOLUME: 954.7m

SEAQ TRADES: 69,278

GILT INDEX: 111.39 +0.93

RUMOURS of corporate action swirl around Fibernet, up 12p at 293.5p. The group, with a national communications network of optical fibre cables, could feel inclined to link up with a more powerful partner.

Its shares have had an eventful time since arriving two years ago. They fell to 84p last year before comments from BT Alex.Brown sent them up to 508p. Earlier this year Fibernet raised pounds 3m, placing shares at 165p.

ADVERTISING group WPP, 3p higher at 306p and tipped as a buy by stockbroker Killik, continues to move in on Tempus, formerly CIA.

WPP has picked up a further 1.2 million shares in the media buyer and now has 17.26 per cent of the company.

WPP has steadily increased its stake and a bid is looking imminent. Tempus shares advanced by 7.5p to 175p; they have reached as high as 257.5p this year.

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