Market Report: Shares march down again amid interest rate worries

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The Independent Online
IT is becoming a grand old Duke of York share market.

On Monday the FT-SE 100 share index marched 46.9 points up the hill; yesterday it collapsed 57.5 points, closing at 3,270.6.

Bond markets again dominated proceedings. Worries, which had been seemingly allayed, that US interest rates cannot be contained returned to push government stocks nearly two points lower. Other bond markets were weak with US selling calling the tunes.

In the current fragile climate it was enough to devastate blue chips. Trading was again little more than modest. But with futures activity making itself felt, leaders showed little, if any, resistance to the downward drag.

Throughout the session blue chips gave ground. But once US economic data was published, the flight gathered strength. The clear implication that transatlantic rates will be forced higher submerged the European desire, underlined by a modest German cut, to create cheaper borrowing.

But, as if to illustrate the topsy- turvey nature of the market, the supporting FT-SE 250 index was much more restrained, falling 15.4 to 3,944.6.

HSBC, played a big part in the decline. Its sterling-denominated shares collapsed by 77p to 868p while the Hong Kong dollar units fell 80p to 892p, enough to knock 14 points from the index.

The slump reflected worries about the composition of the banking group's profits.

It was the sort of reaction designed to unsettle the rest of the banking sector, despite better- than-expected profits from Abbey National and the subsequent forecast upgradings.

Barclays fell 22p to 536p; National Westminster 16p to 485p and Lloyds 15p to 588p. Abbey, after a strong early advance, relapsed to 489p, down 16p.

Courtaulds, the chemical group, was one to buck the trend, helped 7p higher to 509p by NatWest Securities support.

Laporte, up 3p at 823p, drew strength from a positive stance by Lehman Brothers. Figures are due next week with up to pounds 110m expected against pounds 86.6m. Lehman also took a shine to British Vita, up 2p at 284p. It, too, reports next week but poor figures are expected, perhaps pounds 38.5m against pounds 52.3m.

Vodafone, on the back of strong user figures, was another higher, gaining 7.5p to 609p.

RTZ, reflecting strengthening metal prices and a flow of buy recommendations, rose 14p to 867p while Zeneca, whose figures come out tomorrow, was up 7p to 776p.

Wm Morrison, the subject of continuing bid speculation, edged ahead 1p to 115p. For an infrequently traded share, turnover was again heavy with Seaq putting volume at 5 million. Asda, the market's favourite to pounce, rose 0.25p to 57.75p.

Burton, the department store and clothing retailer, continues to attract interest. The shares were little changed at 55p. It is seen, in some quarters, as the next retailing recovery play. The House of Fraser flotation is also likely to draw attention to its successful Debenhams department store operation.

Burford, the property group being developed by entrepreneurial investor Nigel Wray, fell 6p to 105p as 16 million nil paid rights were placed by Barclays de Zoete Wedd at 9p. The rights close at 12p.

The company is buying 15 properties from Ladbroke for pounds 103m. The deal represents the first significant disposal from the controversial Ladbroke property portfolio since a new management moved in.

Ladbroke, 2.5p higher at 211.5p, report year's figures tomorrow. A little-changed profit of pounds 148m is expected with the dividend cut from 11.15p to perhaps 7.75p.

Cable and Wireless, under the Hong Kong influence, fell 13p to 460p. Greig Middleton likes the shares. It looks for profits of this 'unique telecoms company' to emerge at pounds 1,030m for the year ending this month with pounds 1,200m in the following year.

Silentnight, the bedding group, was at one time down to 285p following a warning that market expectations, hovering around pounds 5.2m, were too high and that profits would be 'marginally ahead' of last year's pounds 4.1m. The shares ended 18p down at 355p.

Dawson International, the clothing group recently helped by takeover speculation, fell 5p to 153p after a pounds 50m provision on the closure of its loss-making fleece and jersey business in the US.

Medeva eased 1p to 150p. US investors remain firm supporters, lifting their collective stake through Bank of New York ADRs, to 18.07 per cent.

DFS Furniture slipped 2p to 310p against the 260p November flotation price. A two-way pull has developed in the past few days with BZW taking a bearish stance, pulling the shares back 30p.

But NatWest is more positive. The group 'offers assured high quality growth averaging 15 per cent a year', it says.

DFS is the creation of its chief Graham Kirkham whose half share of the company is worth about pounds 160m.

Anglo St James, a commercial property group once called Anglo Park, was the day's best performer, up 24 per cent to 31p. The view was the shares had not kept up with the property advance.

It has been selling assets but remained a loss-maker in the first half of last year. Losses over the last 30 months come out at about pounds 2.8m. But the low-profile company has sold assets at seemingly realistic prices in the second half of last year.

Unigroup, the building products group, improved 4p to 45p on the link with one of the Malaysian royal families.

Heavy trading in the shares of Wiggins, the builder pulled back from the brink of extinction last year, was evident with Seaq putting volume at 17 million shares, most going through at 5.75p. Rutland Trust was thought to be the seller. The shares were unchanged at 6p. A restructuring of the London docklands builder was approved six months ago.

Croda International, the chemical group, held at 380p. Barclays de Zoete Wedd believes the shares are cheap. They should outperform and there is little downside risk. BZW say the price is ignoring the potential of the group's refined oils operation. They expects profits for last year to emerge at pounds 48m with a decline to pounds 44m this year. In 1992 profits were pounds 29.8m.