Market Report: Shadow-boxing on programme

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Goldman Sachs, the big US securities house, had market-makers shadow-boxing as the stock market attempted to judge the success of its £800m programme trade.

The snap judgement was that Goldman had completed half the programme; uncertainty about the remaining £400m caused anxiety.

The trades may have been completed but have yet to register; or Goldman could have encountered problems completing what could be a difficult exercise in the soggy market conditions. Few were prepared to take chances in the rush to adopt defensive positions.

With the hovering Goldman presence the market was clearly set for a jittery session. The upward pull on interest rates added to the nervousness and with turnover again depressingly thin and New York weak the market was in the doldrums from the opening bell.

By the close, the FT-SE 100 index had slumped 26.3 points to 3,028.6, its lowest level for more than a month.

Takeover rumours endeavoured to lighten the gloom. Financials again attracted attention but the day's hot story centred on a suspected Dutch deal.

Not for the first time, stories circulated that Nutricia, a baby food group, was about to collect a bid. HJ Heinz was one alleged contender; another was Sandoz, a Swiss chemicals and drugs group.

Intriguingly, Unigate, the food and distribution group, sits on 32 per cent of Nutricia. In the Netherlands the speculation is that Nutricia would command a handsome takeover dowry.

The Unigate stake is currently worth £225m. Sandoz, which refused to comment, is said to be prepared to pay about double the present share price. Unigate, up 9p to 359p, would, it is estimated, need more than £400m to prevent earnings dilution.

Kleinwort Benson struggled to hold a 2p gain at 578p and SG Warburg ended 8p higher at 745p as takeover hopes lingered. Mercury Asset Management rose 20p to 768p, dragging Perpetual, the unit trust group, 37p higher to 1,245p. Perpetual failed to attractany recorded turnover.

Wellcome edged ahead 5p to 684p, seemingly on stories that Glaxo, down 12.5p to 662p, is considering a bid.

Nurdin & Peacock, the cash-and-carry-group, turned in the day's main profit warning; the shares shed 10p to 138p after touching 123p.

Thorntons, the chocolate maker and retailer, melted 10p to 161p after disclosing a 1.2 per cent decline in like-for-like sales over Christmas.

Kingfisher, Wednesday's humilated casualty, slipped a further 1.5p to 400.5p in busy trading.

A downgrading, thought to be from Barclays de Zoete Wedd, lowered United Biscuits 5.5p to 316p and Unilever was ruffled by supermarkets withdrawing its Persil Power detergent, falling 13p to 1,153p.

Guinness fell 5p to 415p as Panmure Gordon pressed the sell case and SG Warburg trimmed its profit forecast by £10m to £905m.

Glynwed, the engineer, shaded 2p to 324p as a large seller was mopped up and BTR was little changed at 304p on the arrival of Ian Strachan from RTZ.

A Berkman, the textile group, held at 45p. Maurice Lawson, chairman, has lifted his holding to 29.6 per cent and another board member, M Lawson, has moved to 14.6 per cent.

ML Laboratories, the medical group that has produced the Icodial kidney failure treatment, stuck at 146p. It is expected to announce soon that it has arranged a deal with a German group, Fresenius, to distribute Icodial in all markets with the exception of Japan.

St James Beach Hotels, running four properties in Barbados, held at 136p. Stockbroker Butterfield rates the shares a buy. It forecasts profits of £2m followed by £3.75m and says assets are 140p. The shares are 40 per cent undervalued, it said.

Ahead of an analysts' meeting, T&N fell 4.5p to 150.5p; job losses lowered Rolls-Royce 2.5p to 164.5p.

South Wales Electricity fell 8p to 824p; it completed a share buyback at 823p. Northern Electric edged ahead to 973p as Swiss Bank Corporation lifted its stake to 4.71 per cent.

Danka Business Systems, said to be a target of Alcan Aluminium, a Canadian group, rose 9p to 383p and Mr Data Management again attracted attention as a buyer picked up 200,000 shares, pushing the price 5p higher to 123p.

There are suggestions Ennex International, 11,5p, the Irish resources group, could attract the attention of a cash-hungry mining group. When it sells its Scottish gold prospect at Cononish, 60 miles from Glasgow, Ennex will have more than $7m in the bank. It plans to use the cash for other resource developments but could find itself overtaken by events.

BSM, the driving tuition group, has found it tough passing the stock market test. The shares arrived at 170p in the autumn of 1993; they are now 147p. But house broker James Capel says profits last year reached £4.8m, and will advance to £5.5m this year and then to £6.2m. The present share rating does not reflect the "steady growth prospects".

The FT-SE 100 index fell 26.3 points to 3,028.6 and the supporting FT-SE 250 index lost 15.7 to 3,449.3. Turnover was 629.8 million shares with 18,890 bargains. Government stocks were firm.