Market Report: See-saw session ends a 'mad, mad, mad' account

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AN ASTONISHING account, which has produced some violent share price fluctuations, ended with the FT-SE 100 index swinging from a 33.2-point loss to a 7.3 gain. At one time it was up 11.8.

'It's a mad, mad, mad market', commented one stockbroker who, like many of his colleagues, complained bitterly about the dealing difficulties created by the uncertain conditions.

After such a torrid account technical considerations, with many speculators covering their positions, were always likely to influence the final outcome.

In the event end-account buying and a sudden reawakening of US interest produced a late rally which swamped the earlier nervousness, giving rise to hopes of more settled trading in the two- week Easter account.

Window-dressing could be a feature of the next account with institutional investors making late adjustments to their portfolios as the tax year and current quarter end. And the long holiday could calm the fevered atmosphere.

In early trading it looked as though shares would be hammered unmercifully as the futures market flipped, government stocks suffered falls of more than pounds 21 2 and interest rate worries strengthened.

At one time the 100 index was below 3,100 for the first time since November. The seemingly unanimous view was it was heading towards 3,000.

But the buyers, covering their positions or merely bottom fishing, began to nibble. And, with turnover low, they soon started to erode the losses.

Although gilts remained weak, with Bank of England support making only a modest impression and New York providing little encouragement the market achieved another amazing turnround.

Over the roller coaster account the 100 index has fallen 62.9.

Talk that strategists were revising downwards their year-end 100 index forecasts was another unsettling influence. But Mark Brown, of Hoare Govett, believes the market is cheap and has revised upwards his prediction from 3,300 to 3,500.

Government stocks ended with falls of up to pounds 11 8 .

The day's two newcomers had a predictably bumpy ride, increasing worries that the new issue boom was becoming too dangerous and could be over.

Beazer Homes, the housebuilder split from Hanson and sold at 165p a share, was busily traded with Seaq putting volume at 53 million shares.

An early rush to sell pushed the price down to 155p but a little institutional buying soaked up many of the shares that disillusioned speculators, most with more than they wanted or could afford, were forced to dump to limit their losses. The price ended at 162p.

Controversial MAID, a computer group, suffered an 8p discount at 102p. The offer was thought by some to be overpriced. Prior, a property group returning from suspension, fell to 4.5p. Hanson has a 3.5 per cent interest.

Rank Organisation turned in a strong performance, up 16p to 399p as the suspicion grew that it was near to selling its video distribution business.

Airtours, the package holiday group, is thought to be holding investment meetings, gaining 13p to 485p.

Great Universal Stores, on continuing hopes that in one form or another some of the group's cash hoard will be returned to shareholders, gained a further 10p to 584p. Storehouse was another to advance, up 9p to 222p.

Banks enjoyed a late run with Lloyds up 22p at 568p and TSB 6.5p at 218.5p.

Allied-Lyons recovered a little to 568p following its cash call and takeover of the Spanish Pedro Domecq drinks group.

Bluebird Toys fell 23p to 750p after touching 735p. The shares have been as high as 863p following the group's dramatic profit upsurge. Although they have felt the market torment the shares have also been disturbed by worries that European Union restrictions on imports from China would hinder supplies of the group's top selling toys. But the restrictions will, says Bluebird, have only a 'minimal' impact.

Regalian Properties gained 2p to 34.5p. It has sold three of the four remaining luxury Kensington properties in west London and has arranged a new banking facility. The group is 'now almost clear of debt' and seeking residential property developments.

Bakyrchik, seeking gold in the former Soviet Union, edged forward 4p to 305p as Williams de Broe raised pounds 2.25m for the company, placing 750,000 new shares at 300p with institutions.

James Fisher, a shipping group, was the day's main casualty, sinking 30p to 55p after reporting that profits of nearly pounds 1.5m had been replaced by losses of pounds 5.6m.

British Polythene fell 7p to 453p although Henry Cooke Lumsden feels the shares are a buy, forecasting profits of pounds 17.83m followed by pounds 21.3m.

Merrydown, the cider group which last month issued a surprise profit warning, has lost its finance director. After 11 years in the job, Mike O'Driscoll has quit. A successor has yet to be appointed. The shares fell 16p to 133p, their lowest level. Following the warning analysts cut their profit forecasts to pounds 400,000. Last year the group achieved pounds 1.7m.

John Siddall, the Manchester stockbroker, likes the hue at European Colour, unchanged at 41.5p. The analyst Audrey Carroll believes the chemical colour maker should lift profits from pounds 600,000 to pounds 1.1m this year and pounds 1.6m next. Margins should improve and she expects the group, where the entrepreneur David Williams has a stake, to make strong progress in Europe.

The FT-SE 100 index ended 7.3 points higher at 3,129 but the FT- SE 250 index lost 20.5 to 3,775.2. Trading levels were the best for some time, 850.5 million shares and 45,399 deals. Settlement for the closed account is on 5 April and for the next on 18 April.

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