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Market Report: Shares taken to record by new indices

SHARES stretched to a record high yesterday as the Christmas trading account, after a sluggish start, made its traditional acknowledgement of the festive spirit.

It was not, however, the widely followed FT-SE 100 index that measured shares into new, uncharted territory, although it romped ahead 49.4 points to 2,789.7. The records were achieved by the two indices introduced in October to provide a much broader reflection of the stock market's performance.

The FT-SE 350 index, measuring the top 100 shares and the next 250, jumped 24.7 to 1,358.7, comfortably topping the 1,345.5 hit at the start of this month. The other new index, covering the second-line 250 shares, reached 2,783.6, highest since it was launched. However, it just failed to overcome a backdated calculation that produced a Maytime peak.

The euphoria, which added pounds 10.8bn to the market's value, was helped along by unexpectedly optimistic noises from the Confederation of British Industry, vague talk of lower interest rates and a firm New York opening.

A few institutional investors were detected switching out of blue chips into second-line recovery stocks, and that once-endangered species, the private investor, was alive and well and seeking out his 1993 selections. There was also a sign that some institutions, fearful of missing the Christmas rally, were protecting their positions towards the close.

But technical influences loomed large, with the futures market once again having a significant impact. Yesterday's expiry of the Footsie futures index, which had at one time created worries that stock would come on offer, went smoothly and, in the event, left market makers short of stock.

Turnover reached 939.5 million shares, highest since the sterling devaluation in September. In two days volume has topped 1.7 billion shares, which must have reduced the threat of redundancy at many investment houses.

Many expect shares to continue to advance next year as the longed-for economic recovery at last starts to come through. Nikko, the Japanese investment house, looks for the FT-SE 100 to hit 3,000 by the end of the year; Kleinwort Benson is a shade more optimistic, forecasting 3,050.

Glaxo Holdings was among the winners. The shares rose 16p to 784p as it responded to alleged worries about the growth of some of its high-profile drugs by revealing that Imigran, the anti-migraine drug, had been approved in Germany. It now has approval in 32 countries and has been launched in 22. The German marketing will start early next year.

Imperial Chemical Industries, hit by worries about its demerger and bulk chemical trading, also staged a recovery, ending 16p higher at 1,025p. Nikko believes the market is adopting a too short-term attitude over the group and Zeneca, its drugs division scheduled to be hived off.

Andy Porter, analyst, said: 'Any short-term weakness should be used to build up holdings. The ICI/Zeneca demerger is the culmination of a restructuring programme which has transformed the group.' He believes the share should reach 1,200p next year, outperforming the forecast market advance.

Queens Moat Houses, another share that has been under pressure, rallied 4p to 38p in heavy trading. The group has undertaken City meetings this week that have led to downgradings. But Paribas Capital Markets believes the shares are oversold.

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Takeover candidate Tarmac gained another 3p to 116p.

Asda, the supermarket group, attracted frenetic activity following the better-than-expected interim figures. The price reached 61p, up 7.5p, with Seaq putting volume at a remarkable 98 million shares. Tesco, on its French connection, rose 8p to 253p. Argyll Group continued to benefit from its Scottish presentation, gaining 14.5p to 409.5p.

But it was not all pre-Christmas cheer. Thames TV was one to miss the party as its consortium failed to win the Channel 5 contract. The shares fell 22p to 158p. But Carlton Communications, replacing Thames on the TV screens, jumped 21p to 739p.

De Beers, the South African mining group, was at one time down sharply as it became known that a diamond exchange was due to open in Siberia next year. The shares later recovered much of their fall, closing at pounds 12 5/8.

Zetters, the pools group, also gave ground, ruffled by the Government's decision to introduce a national lottery. The shares fell 11p to 82p.

Shares romped ahead again yesterday, with the FT-SE 100 index jumping 49.4 points to 2,789.7.

Trading was heavy, with Seaq putting volume at 939.5 million shares and 31,495 bargains registered. Government stocks were much more subdued, scoring a few scattered gains

Shares of the Geest fresh food group went bananas yesterday. They jumped 53p to 343p in response to the EC tariffs imposed on Latin American banana imports. But the shares are nearly 100p below their year's high. The group has found trading difficult this year and is expected to suffer a pounds 4.2m decline to pounds 22m. But a partial recovery is expected next year.

Aminex, one of the more washed out tertiary oil stocks, joined in the stock market advance. Long neglected, the shares gained 1.5p to 5.25p reflecting moves to resurrect the company by the chairman Brian Hall. The latest deal was the acquisition of a 12.97 per cent interest in the El Biban field, off Tunisia. The vendor, Svenska Petroleum, took a 4.5 per cent stake in Aminex.