Market Report: Shares recover poise as confidence flows back

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The Independent Online
SHARES recovered some of their poise. After a four-day mauling, which sliced 114 points from the FT-SE 100 index, confidence flowed back to the stock market and the index recorded a 41.5 gain to 3,233.4.

The recovery was even sharper than the index indicated. For 15 Footsie constituents went ex-dividend, stripping 12.6 points from the calculation.

With bond markets taking on a more settled appearance and New York strong on Friday, the market enjoyed some encouraging signals.

Interest rates were, yet again, another important influence. The latest sign that inflation is remaining subdued rekindled hopes of a cut to absorb some of the agony to be inflicted by the round of tax increases. The Bundesbank meets on Thursday, a fortnightly event that invariably arouses interest- rate speculation.

It should have been a joyous, even merrymaking, session. But the expiry of the Footsie futures contract, due on Friday, helped force prices higher and the tight conditions exaggerated many of the movements. Trading was near its lowest level this year, not significantly above the market's break-even point.

The latest round of results was generally well received. English China Clays rose 13p to 524p; Fairey, the engineer, 18p to 759p and MAI 18.5p to 299p.

Utilities, weak lately, were among the best performers, helped by dividend considerations. Waters had the added support of NatWest Securities, which said falls had been overdone.

Coats Viyella, the textile group reporting tomorrow, had a strong run, climbing 11p to 277p. Smith New Court has taken a shine to the shares. It looks for strong growth in earnings, likes Coats' involvement in emerging economies and says the shares should be 300p.

Rank Organisation and Compass, in their slimline forms, were little changed at 419p and 362p. Reuters, due to split, was 10p higher at 2,058p.

Eurotunnel continued to retreat on the delayed tunnel opening, falling 21p to 540p. And Euro Disney was unimpressed by the rescue package, off 28p to 390p.

Bass and Allied-Lyons made headway as Britvic sale hopes strengthened. The soft drink group's biggest shareholder, Bass, rose 9p to 525p and Allied put on 12p to 627p.

Banks turned in an impressive performance with SNC making bullish noises. HSBC, up 19p to 852p, had the added weight of Nomura support.

Lonrho, reflecting the Ashanti flotation, rose 5p to 163.5p. It has a 45 per cent interest in the gold producer.

Baldwin, the leisure group with ambitions to become a big force in catering, improved 6p to 105p on talk of a significant acquisition.

Legal & General, figures on Thursday, rose 16p to 483p. The market is looking for profits of pounds 170m, against pounds 116.1m. Year's dividend is likely to go up 1p a share to 20.1p.

J Sainsbury put on 16.5p to 376p with Barclays de Zoete Wedd and Credit Lyonnais Laing making confident noises. Asda's attempt to put the squeeze on its suppliers lifted the shares 1.5p to 59.5p.

Photo-Me International gained 8p to 280p. Its French subsidiary has won a contract to supply photo-booths and print centres on the Paris Metro.

Simon Engineering, with a pounds 50m rescue rights package, gained 11p to 117p.

J Bibby, a conglomerate, improved 6p to 91p. It is negotiating the sale of its animal feeds business to Associated British Foods.

Terms are expected to be agreed before Bibby's shareholders' meeting at the end of the month. Bibby, which needs a cash injection, said in November it intended to float some of its businesses, including the animal feeds division. If the ABF deal goes through, it is likely to abandon its float intentions. ABF gained 5p to 559p.

British Aerospace and Rolls- Royce managed a higher altitude on hopes the restrictions on foreign shareholding would be eased, even dropped. Currently the overseas limit is 29.5 per cent.

The Government appears to be keen to go to 49 per cent but some voices are campaigning for the ceiling to be abandoned. BAe rose 7p to 518p and Rolls 4.5p to 184p.

The sale, for pounds 71.9m, of its engineering businesses lifted Cookson, the industrial materials group 9p to 285p, highest since 1989.

Etam, the fashion chain, was little changed at 232p. Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull says 'buy', forecasting profits of pounds 13.9m for last year and pounds 18.8m this year.

Barr & Wallace Arnold, the leisure group, is due to report next week. The voting shares were unchanged at 625p but the non-voters improved 11p to 332p as the story circulated that the group was planning to join the shareholder democracy bandwagon and equalise its shares.

The group, with hotel and transport interests, has also attracted takeover speculation.

Ingham, transformed by a move into the motor parts business, could have a bumpy ride today. As the market closed it said profits would not reach market expectations - around pounds 2.8m. The car parts operation has performed below budget. To soften the blow the year's dividend will be lifted to 5p a share from the equivalent of 4.75p. The shares were 162p.

EFT, described by stockbroker Greig Middleton as a 'conservatively run asset finance company', rose 5p to 56.5p. Figures are due tomorrow and Michael Foster, an analyst with Greig, is looking for profits of pounds 1.8m against pounds 1.45m. He believes they will advance to pounds 2.2m this year. The shares, as low as 26p last year, are regarded as 'fundamentally attractive'.

The FT-SE 100 index started the account with a 41.5-point gain to 3,233.4. The FT-SE 250 index improved 28.3 to 3,885.7. Turnover was 555.2 million shares with 34,171 deals. The account ends on 25 March; settlement is on 5 April. Gilts were firm.

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