Market Report: The same, sad story sees losses approaching pounds 50bn

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ONCE again interest rate worries demoralised equities and government stocks.

It was the same, sad story with trading patchy and prices pulled lower by activity in the derivatives markets.

The FT-SE 100 index lost 38.6 points to 2,931.9 and gilts weakened across the maturity range with falls topping one-and-a-half- points.

In the past seven trading days the index has fallen nearly 200 points, wiping, Datastream calculates, pounds 43.8bn from share values. The market is at its lowest since July.

Shares had opened with a show of confidence. But it turned out to be a fragile display. At one time Footsie was up 15.4 and some wondered whether the bear market, which has pulled it so dramatically from the 3,520.3 peak in February, had at last run its term.

But a disappointing reduction in German money rates smashed the advance. Then US purchasing figures inflicted more torment.

There is no doubt that the low volume is exaggerating the market's decline. Few investors, big or small, are prepared to take new positions. It is a case of buying reluctance, rather than any weight of selling in the cash market.

In such circumstances, futures reign supreme as it is possible to speculate on trends with relatively modest outlay.

On Liffe, the long gilt future for June increased the unease by crashing below 100, ending at 99 24/32.

Gilt yields are now reaching 8.8 per cent. But, as Chris Anthony at securities house Hoare Govett points out, investors are still holding off, uncertain when the bottom will be touched.

With government stocks offering yields approaching 9 per cent - and possibly even better returns by the end of today - the incentive to move into equities is not very demanding.

London's equities and gilts markets were in line with European markets, which mostly had a torrid time. New York was also weak.

Besides the prevailing gloom, stores had to contend with a downbeat trading statement from Kingfisher, off 21p at 522p. Great Universal Stores lost 20p to 559p and Marks & Spencer 11.5p to 380p.

Boots, reporting year's results today, gave up 4.5p to 505p. Profits of about pounds 460m are expected against pounds 406.4m.

Construction and property shares were hit. Wolseley dropped 15p to 764p as SG Warburg braved the conditions, with a placing at 748p. It was not clear whether the trades were completed.

Smith New Court gained 11p to 356p, encouraged by talk of bumper profits later this month. A rights issue is also in the air. Granada's sharp profit advance left the shares 10p higher at 501p.

Intermediate Capital, a venture capitalist, managed the not inconsiderable achievement of a 2p debut premium at 227p.

Brewer Morland was flat, down 20p at 493p, with Kleinwort Benson saying sell; Whitbread recovered Tuesday's fall, up 5p at 519p. Guinness, with Hoare Govett suggesting a switch into Bass, fell 5p to 472p. Bass rose 1p to 519p.

Hanson shaded 1p to 253p as NatWest Securities fretted about its dividend policy.

The group's underlying cash flow has deteriorated dramatically, explaining Hanson's desire to make dilutive disposals and push through price increases, and calling into question its decision to increase the dividend, it says. The securities house prefers BTR, down 6p at 367p.

There was a flurry of trading in Budgens, the food retailer, which has been finding life difficult, although the price held at 26p.

Lasmo stuck at 145p as Enterprise Oil, down 9p to 393p, as expected, extended its bid.

Excalibur, the consumer products group, improved 4p to 51p. Its Pic-a-Tape off-shoot is to become exclusive supplier of pre-recorded audio products to Makro, the cash-and-carry group. The deal could be worth more than pounds 24m.

TransTech, an engineer, slumped 18p to 71p following a cautious trading statement.

Celtic Gold, a mining group suspended at 16p, seems about to move into insurance broking. It looks to be on the verge of making what would be a reverse takeover for Irish group Coyle Hamilton. Already shareholders with 40 per cent of Coyle are supporting the proposal. The gold group is thought to be controlled by banker Singer & Friedlander and Kevin Kenny, a merchant banker.

The wisdom of the Camas demerger from English China Clays was evident even on a poor day for the market. ECC hived off its building materials operation with shareholders given one Camas share for each share held. At the close, Camas shares were standing at 76p with ECC at 360p - a collective 14p gain on the day. Seaq put Camas volume at 1.8 million shares.

Winchester Multimedia, one of the 535 market newcomers, firmed to 52p as it produced its maiden figures - a pounds 355,000 loss. But the group seems to be going well: it still has pounds 1.1m in the bank and has moved into the music business, buying a record company for shares. Production of its first film, Rainbow, directed by Bob Hoskins, should start in August. Finance is in place.

Shares fell again. The FT-SE 100 index ended 38.6 points down at 2,931.9 and the FT-SE 250 index gave up 26.6 to 3,537.7. Turnover was 530.7 million with 22,553 bargains. The account ends tomorrow with settlement on 13 June.

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