Market Report: Shopping bonanza stuns even hardened traders

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SHARES WERE in rampant form again with the FT-SE 100 index breaking through the 3,400-point barrier.

But it was unable to hold such an exalted altitude for more than a few minutes, and at the close the index was registering a 40.8 gain at 3,396.5.

The strength of the Christmas shopping spree has astonished even hardened stock market traders.

Shares were expected to follow the festive pattern of recent years and storm ahead. But few forecast such a determined advance, which has already exceeded last year's holiday account gain by nearly 30 points.

Interest rates, low inflation and economic revival remain the main factors.

But there are signs shares are now enjoying a snowball run as investors, big and small, scramble to join the buying rush, worried they are being left behind in the bull market.

Juggling portfolios ahead of the year-end reckoning also contributed to the fun.

Many price advances were exaggerated as market-makers, desperately short of stock, pushed up quotes in an often vain bid to deter buyers and tempt reluctant sellers.

The latest action, for once not influenced by futures activity, has lifted the Footsie 135.2 in the account and makes the gain so far this year a staggering 550 points.

The supporting FT-SE 250 index underlined the bull run, gaining 35.8 to a record 3,762.8.

Turnover was an impressive 885.4 million shares, although heavy trading in the nil-paid rights of the struggling Wakebourne computer group distorted the volume. Seaq put turnover at 64 million with the units priced at just 0.25p.

Most sectors joined the excitement. Electricities, largely on yield considerations, were in spectacular form.

National Power jumped 23p to 497p and PowerGen, strengthening its oil and gas interests through the Lasmo deal, increased by 22p to 562p. They were floated at 175p in March 1991.

Stores, on hopes of bumper trading, moved ahead; builders continued their recovery; and breweries were a little more cheerful following James Capel's sober assessment.

Media shares were again strong with the apparent end of the battle for Paramount, the US group, generating takeover excitement.

Reuters, thought to be on the verge of buying the Quotron market-trading system, spurted 64p to 1,880p. But conditions were particularly squeezy, with talk of a leading US house short of 190,000 shares.

Capel took the shine from Tomkins, down 7p to 230.5p. Wal-Mart, a leading US retailer, is removing guns from its shelves in February - another move in the growing campaign to end the free-for-all guns market in the US.

Tomkins is a big supplier through its Smith & Wesson off-shoot which accounts for 4 per cent of its profits.

Capel, however, made positive noises about BTR, up 11p at 380p.

British Aerospace was another to miss the fun. The shares tumbled 10p to 403p with some worrying about the level of write-downs that may be necessary.

Glaxo put on 19p to 723p, anticipating that the US Food and Drug Administration will clear the sale of its migraine drug, Imigran, in tablet form.

Banks had another good session with TSB up 3p to 254.5p. On a two-year view Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull says it is one of the cheapest shares in the sector.

Profits in the year to October are forecast to come in at pounds 300m; for this year the figure is pounds 500m; and for the following year pounds 670m.

Coal Investments improved 4p to 29p as a 21.7 per cent shareholding was placed with institutions at 20.5p. The shares were issued in connection with an acquisition.

Flying Flowers, a delivery service placed at 65p in August, climbed 4p to 84p after reporting Christmas trading was up 30 per cent. It expects its pounds 940,000 profit forecast to be achieved.

More records fell with the FT-SE 100 index up 40.8 at 3,396.5 and the FT-SE 250 index up 35.8 at 3,762.8. Volume was 885.4 million shares from 33,718 bargains. The account ends next Friday, with settlement on 10 January. Gilts rose by up to half a point.

Talk of an insurance takeover went the rounds. CE Heath, the broker, was in the frame with Inchcape mentioned as the most likely bidder. It was rumoured Hambros had decided to sell its 13.79 per cent stake and was negotiating with Inchcape, which would follow up with a full bid. Heath rose 13p to 390p and Inchcape 7p to 561p.

IBM, the computer giant, has reduced its stake in Tadpole Technology. It has exercised warrants, granted early this year, and placed the resultant 2.2 million shares with institutions. IBM still has a 2.3 per cent shareholding. As a result of the IBM move Tadpole collects pounds 1.4m, which should ease rights issue fears. The shares rose 7p to 267p.

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