Market Report: Shares struggle back after another dangerous day

 

Another volatile session threatened to reduce the struggling stock market to a shambles.

Shares opened on a confident note only to be hit when the Germans cancelled another bund auction and British money supply figures indicated that the next interest rate move could be upwards.

In ragged trading prices plunged. By mid-morning the FT-SE 100 index was below what many regard as the important 2,950 points support level, nursing a 41.4 fall. But a few modest buy programmes and some inevitable bargain-hunting stabilised the proceedings, helping shares to claw their way back and by the close the Footsie was 4.1 points higher and, to the relief of many, back above the 2,950 level at 2,970.5.

The dramatic swing could indicate that shares are throwing off the shackles of the European bond markets, which were devastated by the latest German move. Government stocks, however, remained in the doldrums, suffering falls of around two points.

But trading remained desperately thin, again allowing the futures market to dominate proceedings. It was derivatives activity which had the biggest single influence, with overseas operators making much of the running.

Thin trading has been the pattern of recent sessions. Last week's slump occurred in subdued turnover, with buyers staying on the sidelines, leaving the arena to a smattering of sellers.

Shares fell each day last week and many would have read a sixth consecutive fall as another blow to a market which, in its present depressed state, takes notice of poor signals but ignores the increasing array of bullish indicators.

Two three-week accounts in succession have not helped sentiment. The market is now in the final leg of its final three-week trading session. There are only three traditional two-week accounts left before it goes over to rolling settlement, a development many private client brokers view with anxiety.

Company results - real and expected - created most of the main price movements. De La Rue, already firm following its decision not to get enticed into an expensive takeover battle for Portals, gained 16p to 859p as profits came in at the top end of the expectations range.

Ahead of figures tomorrow the engineer Siebe gained 21p to 556p. NatWest Securities is looking for profits of pounds 212.5m and rivals UBS are on pounds 228m. Last year the group achieved pounds 185.1m.

But Hall Engineering crashed 71p to 169p as it warned that profits would be 'materially' short of last year's figure. Analysts cut forecasts from pounds 9m to pounds 5.5m.

Among oils Shell rose 4p to 704p ahead of an investment presentation, due tomorrow.

Lasmo's Colombian oil find failed to impress, leaving the shares 3p lower at 145p. Bidder Enterprise Oil rose 3p to 402p.

Bullish comments from SG Warburg were responsible for a 10p gain to 518p by Bass, the brewer, but UBS was rumoured to be negative on Whitbread, off 6p at 514p.

Amstrad, the electronics group, put on 1p to 31p as it at last ended its search for a chief executive, appointing Phillips Electronics man David Rogers.

US buying was said to be responsible for a 12p gain to 531p by Vodafone and a 43p gain to 1,083p by Micro Focus, the computer group.

Associated British Foods had an uncomfortable session, falling 14p to 529p. Disappointment lingers over the price it received from Greggs for its Bakers Oven shops chain. Greggs has risen 75p since the deal was mooted.

Towles, the little clothing group, responded to the pounds 4.22m bid from shareholder London City Equities, with the ordinary shares up 28p at 271p and the non-voting 'A' shares 13p higher at 118p.

London City, an Australian investment group, has 51 per cent of the capital but only 14 per cent of the votes. Towles said the offer undervalued the shares.

Automotive Precision made a smooth market debut, reaching 106p from a 100p sale price.

BAA, ahead of results, rose 15p to 925p and British Airways enjoyed its Orly Airport access with a 7.5p gain to 378p. Eurotunnel continued to celebrate its rights issue and with French buying improved 10p to 369p.

Hays, the business support group, edged ahead 2p to 291p as it won a five-year data storage contract from Shell.

Standard Chartered, the banking group, continued to draw strength from NatWest comments, gaining 9p to 240p.

Unit Group, a loss-making timber pallet maker, advanced 4p to 40p. A rights issue has received a 90.3 per cent take up and together with a subscription by Glenbank, a private company controlled by Harry Sproule and J Wilton, has raised more than pounds 1.2m for the struggling group. Glenbank has about 26 per cent of Unit and Messrs Sproule and Wilton have joined the board.

Stockbroker Dunbar Boyle & Kingsley has run the rule over the family-controlled brewers with a presence on the backwater 535 share market. Top of the barrel, it believes, is Adnams, the Suffolk brewer. Its 'A' shares are priced at 400p, offering a p/e of 3 and a dividend yield of 5.3 per cent. Assets are put at 1,477p a share. The group has a market capitalisation of pounds 11m.

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