Market Report: Shares slide to lowest point since Gulf war

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The Independent Online
THE stock market yesterday slumped to levels last seen as the Gulf war was drawing to its close nearly 18 months ago.

In another sombre session the FT-SE share index crashed through 2,350 points, yet another so-called support level, closing 24.4 points down at 2,325.7. At one time it was 32.1 lower.

Although dividend payments accounted for more than seven points of the fall, the extent of the decline strengthened fears that the FT-SE's next resting place could be 2,200. There is even talk that it could end the year nudging 2,000, against the predictions when shares were romping ahead in the post-election hysteria of 3,000.

Trading volume remains pathetically low as most investors, big and small, sit nervously on the sidelines. The devastating impact of the lingering recession and fears of higher interest rates and dividend cuts have in effect eliminated serious investment buying for the time being, leaving the field to a few bargain hunters and speculators.

The latest credit figures and another ragged retreat in Tokyo served to underline the depth of the domestic and international despair.

As is often the case when the market is nervous and slack stockbrokers blame market- makers for heaping on the agony and market-makers say brokers are trying to take unfair advantage of the conditions.

Brokers say it is difficult to deal in chunky lines of stock at realistic prices. Even small deals, particularly among the tiddlers, are often fraught with problems.

And the merest suggestion that stock is on offer can play havoc with a price.

Great Universal Stores non- voting 'A' closed 31p down at 1,323p, with a deal at 1,302p, as about 100,000 shares changed hands.

Bromsgrove Industries, a specialist engineer, dived 13p to 75p with 250,000 shares sold at 78p.

There were, however, a few bright spots. Builder MJ Gleeson, under savage pressure last week for no apparent reason, rallied 50p to 633p as the company assumed the market's behaviour reflected an 'adjustment' for an outperforming share. 'The company is aware of no other factor which could cause this movement in the share price'.

Last week Gleeson slumped 165p.

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British Airways, ahead of today's first-quarter results, rose 7p to 261p. A profit of up to pounds 100m is expected against pounds 9m last time.

And some of the hard-pressed insurers perked up on hopes that results this week may not be as uncomfortable as some fear. General Accident, reporting interim figures today, rose 10p to 390p. Estimates of losses range from pounds 20m to pounds 45m.

Commercial Union, with figures out tomorrow, gained 5p to 435p. County NatWest is looking for a pounds 19m loss. But Royal Insurance fell 2p to 165p. An pounds 80m loss is expected with only a token dividend, to preserve trust status, declared.

Life insurers were weak although Credit Lyonnais Laing suggested Legal & General and TransAtlantic were worth buying. It also advocated a switch into Prudential from other insurers. L&G fell 7p to 305p. The Pru eased 1p to 227p and TransAtlantic was unchanged at 189p.

Insurance brokers gave ground with SG Warburg Securities said to be responsible for much of the damage.

Stories of Lonrho's deepening links with the Gaddafi regime in Libya pushed the shares 4p lower to 76p. The Libyan connection could force US investors, including the Fidelity fund management group with 10 per cent, to sell.

Granada suffered from negative comments from County. The securities house fretted about BSkyB competition hitting the group's commercial TV operations and was less than impressed with some of Granada's other operations. The shares fell 10p to 231p.

Evered Bardon put on 3p to 30p as its US operation won a dollars 40m contract to supply concrete for a tunnel in Boston and Carr Kitcat & Aitken described the shares as a 'speculative buy'. The stockbroker is forecasting profits of pounds 22.5m and a halved dividend.

Channel Holdings, the company that conceived the idea of a Channel tunnel in the 1880s, returned to market in its new guise as car security group at 20p.

Hotel shares had another difficult session although Queens Moat Houses, reporting interim figures tomorrow, held at 70p. Profits of pounds 42.4m against pounds 36.2m are expected.

Berkeley Group, the builder, fell 19p to 194p. Last month its chairman, Graham Roper, and chief executive, Tony Pidgley, bought 60,000 shares at 224p.

The new account started on a flat note. The FT- SE share index, at one time down 32.1 points, ended with a 24.4 decline to 2,325.7. The FT 30- share index lost 21.5 to 1,731.8. Trading volume was again low, renewing worries that another round of redundancies will soon occur. Turnover was 331 million shares with only 15,921 bargains

Shares of Burton Group, the struggling retailer, held at 31.5p yesterday. Kleinwort Benson has changed its recommendation from sell to 'weak hold'. But the deteroriating sales outlook has prompted analysts Nick Hawkins and Fay Dodds to cut their profit forecast for the year starting next month from pounds 28m to pounds 15m. For this year they expect pounds 5m.

African Gold, which has mining interests in Zimbabwe, has added a little glitter to the backwater Rule 535 market, climbing to 13p. There is a story drifting around that a member of the Botswana tribal aristocracy plans a takeover bid at about 25p a share. The Irish entrepreneur John Teeling, AfGold's chairman, said: 'I have heard the rumours but discount them'.

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