Market Report: Shares rise to a new peak in hectic trading

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The Independent Online
SHARES STRETCHED to a new peak, with Footsie for the first time topping 6,300 points.

In a remarkable session the blue chip index rose 152.4 points to 6,307.6 in often hectic trading. Supporting indices, although moving ahead, were far less ebullient, as key investors once again concentrated their fire- power on leading shares.

New York's recent strength, the steady stream of satisfactory trading statements and the overflowing coffers of institutional investors were the major influences.

The Government's euro signal, sterling's weakness against the United States dollar, hopes of even lower interest rates and the activities of a persistent buyer in the futures market also contributed to the day's heroics.

The advance was achieved against a background of heavy trading with share turnover back above 1 billion.

Dixons, the electrical retailer, was one of the top performing blue chips, rising 73p to 1,163p on suggestions of an Internet book link with Bertelsmann, the German group. The three-year deal could hit WH Smith which, perhaps significantly, fell 6p to 530.5p.

Smith's was one of the few leaders to give ground. Mostly the stock market represented a rocketing display of rises with some significant gains achieved.

HSBC, the banking group, was the star constituent of Footsie with a 113p improvement to 1,783p. Suggestions that it might take over the Hong Kong government's 8.81 per cent holding as part of its buy-back programme helped.

The shake-up at Marks & Spencer lifted the shares above 400p again, up 19.75p to 401.75p, and BT crashed through the 1,100p barrier with a 46p surge to 1,118.5p as Cellnet, its 60 per cent owned off-shoot, unveiled an Internet service provider.

Hi-tech excitement also extended to the likes of Arm, the chip-maker, up 427.5p to 2,467.5p; the shares arrived at around 800p last April. Acorn, with an Arm stake that is worth more than 300p a share, jumped 26.5p to 190p.

BSkyB, the satellite television station, managed a 17p gain to 553.75p ahead of an investment dinner last night at the Savoy hotel in London. Henderson Crosthwaite hosted the event, which was due to be attended by 22 fund managers.

Whispers of corporate action helped the market's advance. Some felt they detected signs of activity at Scottish Media, up 16p at 828.5p. Flextech, with 18.5 per cent, firmed 37p to 775p.

On the undercard, electrical equipment group Delta, on talk of a bid from either the TT conglomerate or a US group, firmed 6p to 123.5p, and old bid favourite David S Smith, the packaging group, hardened 6p to 114.5p.

Greenalls, the hotels to pubs chain, remained in the frame with a 12p plus at 386.5p. Scottish & Newcastle, up 37.5p to 707.5p, and Whitbread, 38p higher at 923p, remain the market's favourites to pounce. Three years ago Greenalls, then a Footsie constituent, hit 633p.

Game, the computer games retailer, moved ahead in early trading before the group indicated possible bid action. Rival Electronics Boutique then emerged as the possible predator although Dixons is said to be hovering. Game shares ended 28p higher at 130.5p.

Pemberstone, a property group, gained 14.5p to 63p as a management buy- out was signalled. Devro, the sausage skin maker, firmed 1.5p to 164.5p despite the denial of any approach.

Results met a mixed response. Cadbury Schweppes headed the Footsie fallers, melting 34.5p to 1,000p and Centrica's maiden payments were greeted by an unchanged 122p price.

But banker Standard Chartered hardened 22p to 832.5p, despite a sharp profits decline.

Rolls-Royce, year's results next week, climbed 9.5p to 269p and British Aerospace, figures today, rose 13.5p to 441p despite the worries over the Al Yamamah oil-for-arms contracts.

Diageo, the spirits group, strengthened 32p to 692.5p following the sale of six US brands, and WPP, the advertising agency, gained 17.75p to 487.75p after picking up an estimated extra pounds 90m of billings from Kimberly Clark.

The supermarket price war continued to take its toll with Asda and Wm Morrison giving ground. Tesco was little changed at 172.75p with CSFB lifting its profit forecast for the year ending this month from pounds 850m to pounds 870m. It seems the investment house also put a hold tag on the shares which had previously been regarded as a sell. A profit warning from food group John Lusty sliced the shares 1.25p to 5p and Calluna duly produced the expected response to its Tuesday caution, slumping 7p to 16p with share turnover a heavy 28 million.

MFI, the furniture group, which produced a gloomy statement as the market closed on Tuesday, ended 2.5p down at 33.5p.

Atlantic Telecom, which hitherto operated only in Scottish cities, rung up a 15p gain to 167p after winning five regional licences in England.

Versailles, the finance group, checked up a 13.5p advance to 130.5p following investment meetings.

BGR, the restaurant group, firmed a further 22.5p to 172.5p. The shares were 130p ahead of results on Monday.

Shield Diagnostic slipped 7.5p to 510p. Its proposed merger with Axis Biochemicals of Norway has run into a hitch and will not be agreed, as expected, this month.

It seems some that Axis shareholders want more information, although chief executive David Evans believes the odds on the pounds 177m deal going through "still remain in our favour".

Antonov, the gearbox designer, held at 59p ahead of the disclosure of a pounds 1m share placing at 55p. Last year's loss was pounds 21.m. The shares were 115p last autumn.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.07 billion


GILTS INDEX: 114.97 -0.35

CARD CLEAR, the group specialising in credit fraud prevention, held at 39p, not much above the year's low.

Profits are due today; they are expected to come out at around pounds 3.8m, double the 1997 figure.

The group is also believed to be on the verge of clinching a deal with the relevant organisation, which will provide retailers and others with an on-the-spot ability to detect "hot" or dubious credit cards.

ANOTHER COMPANY is on its way to market - via a reverse takeover. Wilmslow, a little AIM-traded business, was suspended at 2.25p after buying Media Content, a sports media consultancy in exchange for shares. As part of the restructuring, Wilmslow's existing business, Quaser Sports, a clothing company, is being sold to its management for pounds 250,000. Since arriving last summer, Wilmslow shares have moved between 2.25p and 2.5p.