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MARKET REPORT: Traders stay calm as Footsie falls nearly 50 points

Transatlantic interest rate worries gnawed away at equities, dragging Footsie 48.7 points lower.

It was, surprisingly, the biggest one-day decline since as long ago as April Fool's Day, when the stock market was again wrestling with US rates. Since then the market has been in rampant form, climbing more than 400 points.

After such a long bull run a downbeat performance was inevitable. Could it signal the end of what many regard as the Blair upsurge or merely a hiccup in the rise to Footsie at 5,000 points?

Most observers were inclined to the view that blue chips, if not the supporting stocks, still had a great deal of life left in them. "It had to happen; an uneasy Monday pulls in some profit-takers," said one long- time market man.

Signs of a big programme trade with the emphasis on selling and a weak futures market also contributed to the unsettled atmosphere.

Some lumpy lines of stock were said to be on offer. Cadbury Schweppes weakened 11p to 532.5p on fears of a hovering line and Tesco, off 2p at 392p, was another where shares were on offer.

Waters took a gentle bath as John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, read the riot act, demanding much more strenuous action over water wastage and so on. Thames, said to be the worst leaker, fell 9p to 673p and Hyder dipped 16p to 837.5p.

Southern Electric, the last of the independent regional electricity companies, fell 17p to 409.5p. On Friday HSBC James Capel paid just under 420p a share for an 8 per cent stake. There is talk that the stock has not been enthusiastically received and Capel has an uncomfortably large slice of the stake still on its books.

Footsie ended at 4,645.2; dividend payments stripped out 3.6 points. The supporting FTSE 250 index fell 15.3 to 4,510.4.

Carlton Communications, with year's figures tomorrow, retreated 17.5p to 507p with a cautious BZW media review doing much of the damage. Profits are expected to emerge at pounds 161.5m against pounds 143.3m.

Reckitt & Colman, for long regarded as the most likely Unilever victim, fell 18p to 896p on reports that the Anglo-Dutch food and soap giant was eyeing a US acquisition.

On the financial front, Abbey National continued to display resilience. At one time down 15p, it rose to record a 5.5p gain before settling at 959.5p, off 1.5p.

Premier Farnell, the electronic components group, rose 12.5p to 484p on talk of analyst meetings, and vehicles group Henlys, riding high at 425p, up 8.5p, was another said to be planning the analytical route.

Harrisons & Crosfield, involved in chemicals and timber, gained 7p to 111p on break-up hopes. Lonrho's talks with South African Johannesburg Consolidated lifted the shares 5p to 140p.

Rosebys, the linen retailer, lost 2.5p to 297.5p as Cattles, the credit company, sold its remaining 22.9 per cent stake at 275p through Charterhouse Tilney. Eight institutions took the shares.

Manchester United lost 6p to 628p following the retirement of Eric Cantona, and Chelsea, despite its FA Cup triumph, fell 10p to 116p on worries that the late Matthew Harding's estate was about to be liquidated. A sale of 402,000 shares last week aroused fears that the stake will be dribbled on to the market. Heart of Midlothian, the Scottish Premier club, kicked off with a 1.5p premium against the 140p placing.

MEPC was little changed at 497p as the rumoured pounds 2.2bn bid from British Land, off 14p at 583.5p, failed to materialise.

Telewest, the cable television company, fell 2.5p to a 75p low on talk that a leading securities house was about to make extremely negative comments. Cirqual, the engineer, fell 8.5p to 249p; Charterhouse placed shares at 248p to raise pounds 16m.

Silk Industries was the day's smartest performer, jumping 52 per cent to 103.5p. The silk fabrics group produced profits of pounds 2.6m against pounds 2.3m and made confident noises about future trading.

Utilitec, the gas and water services group, rebounded 8p to 73.5p and Allied Leisure, following director buying, rallied 3p to 34.5p.

Suggestions that Hambro Countrywide was the lurking bidder for estate agents John D Wood produced an 11p gain to 146p.

Countryside Properties, interim figures today, moved ahead 4p to 100p. There are hopes that the Essex housebuilder will double profits to around pounds 2m. In its last full year Countryside made pounds 3.1m and said in March it was trading well.