Market Report: Small fry start to challenge the blue chips

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The Independent Online
There are signs, still faint, that second and third liners are shaking off their inferiority complex and narrowing the gap which has opened with blue chips.

In a week when Footsie tended to dilly and dally the supporting midcap and smallcap indices have achieved new peaks.

They were in form yesterday as Footsie managed a 29.8 points gain to 5,5823, nearly 50 below the high hit last week.

One of the most astonishing aspects of the current bull run is the way blue chips have outperformed their smaller rivals. They opened a yawning gap which the smaller fry is unlikely to close in the foreseeable future.

Overseas investors are unwilling to venture beyond the Footsie constituents and even domestic institutions much prefer to concentrate on blue chips because of the difficulties they often experience in trading in the shares of smaller companies.

Inchcape, the international trading group which was devastated first by the strength of the yen and then the Asian crisis, led the midcap advance.

The shares rose 10p to 161p in moderate trading. They have, of course, a long way to go before they recapture their earlier glory, Last year they topped 300p and in Inchcape's halcyon days were riding above 600p.

Coats Viyella, the struggling textile group, was another to stage a modest recovery. The shares managed to struggle off their low point, climbing 4p to 86.5p. CV has opted for a demerger. It intends to split itself into two stand alone companies. Viyella and Jaeger together with the home-furnishing business will be bundled together as one group; the industrial threads and zips operation and small engineering side would represent the other package.

The dismal share price stems from its poor trading performance. The group took the gloss off the demerger announcement by producing a profit warning.

In 1996 it achieved pounds 94.4m; around pounds 40m is expected for last year and a dividend cut is on the cards.

Financial shares were back in favour, largely due to the storming Lloyds TSB profits performance. Lloyds gained 38p to 837p after touching 890p. Barclays and Woolwich, both reporting next week, improved 30p to 1,886p and 5.5p to 369p respectively.

Schroders rose 75p to 2,000 and Legal & General, the insurance group, 16p to 701p.

SEA MultiMedia suffered the day's biggest fall, sliding 40 per cent to 7.5p. An agency cross of 900,000 shares at 2.5p did the damage. It seems a buyer could not be found at higher price. An Israeli company SEA came to the market at around 70p in 1996.

Microvitec, a technology group, fell almost as much as SEA. The shares slumped 5p to 7.75p after the group said it would have to sell its displays division because it was "experiencing financial difficulties". The sale could pull in up to pounds 3m. Two years ago the shares topped 70p.

Merrydown, the cider and English wine company, was another in a distressed state. After it was known the take over talks with unidentified parties had fallen through the shares lost 7p to 47.5p.

Still, Tadpole Technology continued its remarkable progress, hitting 34.25p, up 7.75p. Since the stockbroker Colin Blackbourn acquired 3.1 per cent at around 10p a share there has been a surge of speculative buying with many T-25 deals arranged. Tadpole, heavily loss-making, is rumoured to have a big contract up its corporate sleeve. It will have to be a remarkable deal to justify the present price. Three years ago the shares topped 400p.

Futures Integrated Telephony jumped 18p to 95.5p after disclosing it had received a bid approach. Amin Hemani, who runs the Reading-based Westcoast computer group, recently picked up 3.2 per cent and then a 4.27 per cent interest, said to be hostile to Mr Hemani. was built through a nominee company.

ISA International put on 2.5p to 110p after buying a stationery wholesaler for pounds 29m; shares are being issued for the deal at 137p.

Alphameric, the IT group, fell 8p to 38p. It produced a profit warning which prompted forecasts of around pounds 2m to be lowered to no more than break even for the year ending next month. Butterfield Securities, the stockbroker, expect profits of pounds 1.5m next year.

A telephone conference between hard pressed Biocompatibles International and leading investors and analysts failed to produce much enthusiasm and the shares fell 3.5p to 149.5p. They were 1,420p last year.

Dares Estates improved 4p to 20.5 as a 6.2 million share overhang was placed with three institutions at 19p.