Market Report: Shares suffer in another poor day

FOOTSIE HAS fallen 275 points since hitting a peak just eight trading days ago. Much of the retreat has occurred in heavy trading with daily turnover usually exceeding 1 billion shares.

So is the stock market merely suffering from an attack of vertigo or is the long decline that the bears have so often predicted at last starting to take place? That is the question occupying market professionals who are undoubtedly worried by the display since the record 6,335.7 level was achieved.

Their dilemma is increased by the new style market which has evolved in recent months. Last year a 1 billion turnover was the exception rather than the norm. This year volume has topped 1 billion on most trading days.

Many institutional traders are anxious to take a more active role in playing Footsie constituents. They have been encouraged to do so by the introduction of the computerised order book. It was bound to increase Footsie's volatility. The index's higher altitude also contributes to the now commonplace yawning swings.

Although the jury is still out on the likely market direction there is no doubt that what has always been a difficult read has become much harder.

New York's failure to consolidate, after the briefest of flirtations, above 10,000 points has certainly undermined London confidence. But the likelihood of more interest rate cuts and the growing expectation that the economy will be subjected to a soft landing are among the more encouraging signs. The current round of company results have also been much better than at one time seemed likely.

The Dow Jones Average, off more than 100 during London's opening, was largely responsible for the latest fall, taking Footsie down 92.3 to 6,060.5. Weak European markets and a sudden end to Tokyo's rally were other influences on a market which could have done with some corporate inspiration.

There was again an array of bids and deals outside the Footsie domain. Granada splashed out pounds 110.3m (915p a share) for the Mirror's 18.6 per cent stake in Scottish Media sending the shares 22p higher to 865.5p. Flextech, figures today, has an 18.5 per cent SM stake and, the market believes, could be happy to accept the Granada price.

Fitch, the design group, rose 21.25p to 59p on a 62p agreed US bid and Jarvis Hotels, another where a possible predator lurks, jumped 26.5p to 158.5p. Leicester City, where a bid seems to be kicking around, scored a 4p gain to 45.5p.

Property group Greycoat, resisting a bid from George Soros related Delancey Estates, rose 5.5p to 205.5p

But Regent Inns was at one time down 21.5p on the failure of its merger talks with rival SFI. Hopes that the pubs chain is still in play had reduced the loss to 5p at 167.5p by the close. SFI was unchanged at 193.5p. Swallow fell 10.5p to 258.5p as its plans to sell its breweries and 350 bottom- of the-barrel pubs floundered with the management buy out team presumably unable to meet the asking price.

Among blue chips Telewest Communications was spurred by thoughts that the 30 per cent stake held by MediaOne, merging with Comcast, will be sold, putting the cable TV group into play; the shares gained 10p to 263.25p.

P&O was buoyed 45p to 860.5p following results and the appearance of a disposal programme. Iceland's figures left the shares up 8.5p at 283.5p with Warburg Dillon Read suggesting a 340p target.

Cable & Wireless, ahead of a Henderson Crosthwaite investment dinner, fell 11p to 730.5p and WH Smith dropped 18.5p to 590p after a Merrill Lynch downgrading. Smith's is thought to be on the verge of joining companies offering a free internet service provider.

Oils were little changed by the Opec pledge to cut production with BP Amoco hardly moved at 1,002p.

Scottish & Newcastle, the nation's biggest brewer, fell 19.5p to 675p, not far from its 12-month low, on worries that profits are under pressure and a downbeat trading statement is being prepared. There is talk that Scottish has been saying that City profit forecasts, around pounds 415m for the year to May, are too high. Last year the group rolled out pounds 422m. Tesco, setting up shop in South Korea, firmed 2.5p to 166p.

Some waters were strong following an investment conference organised by WestLB Panmure. Yorkshire Water rose 30.5p to 457p.

MSB International, the IT group related to Crystal Palace's beleaguered chairman Mark Goldberg, slumped 52.5p to 172.5p after forecasting profits of pounds 11.5m which, it claimed, was in line with expectations.

There was action among some of the smaller exploration and mining shares. Arcon International rose 1p to 13p as its Galmoy zinc mine in Ireland was given a projected 15 years life, up from 10 years, and Aminex held at 13p after raising pounds 700,000 via a placing.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.2bn

SEAQ TRADES: 92.278

GILTS: 115.68 -0.29

TRADEPOINT, the little stock exchange, is heading west. The order driven, screen-based electronic market, has been given permission to operate in the US, the first foreign exchange to get into the US market. It is suggested that Tradepoint's success is because the Americans were only prepared to accept a small group with little clout. Still, the shares rose 17.5p to 36p, a far cry from the 180p they once touched.

SHERRY FITZGERALD, an Irish auctioneer and property agent embracing the country's largest estate agency network, is coming to AIM and bringing with it the euro.

The nominal value of its shares will be measured in euros - each will be 0.12 of the currency. The flotation price, presumably in Irish punts, has not been fixed but the group intends to raise IRpounds 3.5m. The shares will be traded in London and Dublin.

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