Market Report: Uncertainty drives investors to drink

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IT'S ALL BEEN enough to turn investors to drink. Uncertain about the real strength of New York's overnight charge and bedevilled by Far Eastern anxieties, the stock market alighted on brewery and pub shares, encouraged by talk of their defensive merits in times of stress and strain.

Whitbread jumped 46p to 818p; Bass 27p to 902p and Scottish & Newcastle 25.5p to 812.5p. Investment houses BT Alex.Brown and Merrill Lynch were the main instigators of the sudden taste for booze.

Alex.Brown talked about "above-average yields and sub-market ratings", and Merrill, although downgrading profits forecasts, stressed the industry's underlying value and waxed positive about the prospects for the major brewing companies.

Merrill remained cautious about the regional brewers, whereas Alex.Brown talked about the smaller brewers "coming into their own in the next two years". It also expressed its support for some of the out-of-favour pub companies such as Enterprise Inns, up 11p at 258.5p, and JD Wetherspoon, which ended a shade firmer at 202.5p.

Footsie ended 32.9 points down at 5,311.3. It completely ignored New York's exhilarating display, managing an 87.8-point fall in the opening minutes; it later rallied with a 21-point gain, but with Wall Street uncertain ended on a cautious note.

The unease underlined the uncertainty in the market. It was subjected to a two-way pull, with the bulls and bears almost cancelling each other out. Lower interest rates today could signal at least a short-term victory for the bulls.

After the market closed the Footsie changes were announced. They were much as expected: Colt Telecom, TeleWest Communications, the computer group Sema, Securicor and Southern Electric were recruited at the expense of such traditional representatives of the nation's industrial might as British Steel, Blue Circle Industries and RMC. Rank, the struggling leisure group, and Enterprise Oil were the other casualties. Gallaher and Imperial, the tobacco groups, just missed inclusion.

The Footsie presence of LucasVarity, the aerospace and engineering group, was thrown into jeopardy following its decision to move its main listing to the US. At one time the shares were hit 18p as the market fretted about pension-fund selling as many institutions confine investment to UK quoted shares. But LV's strong figures, plus hopes of bid action, pushed the price up 2.5p to 210.5p.

Mid cap arrivals include Coca-Cola Beverages, the insurance broker Jardine Lloyd Thompson and Psion. Danka Business Systems, House of Fraser and Cairn Energy suffer the indignity of slipping into the small cap index.

Supporting shares offered some encouragement, with the mid cap and small cap indices making modest progress. Among blue chips Kingfisher, following its surprise intervention in the Scottish Media bid for video publisher VCI, added 16p to 534p. VCI jumped 13p to 91.5p and Scottish Media firmed to 656p.

A raft of profits warnings and disappointing figures, perhaps not surprisingly announced after the day of the index calculations, took their toll. Albright & Wilson, the chemicals group where takeover rumours have circulated, fell 11p to 97.5p, a new low. Glynwed International fell 18p to 185.5p; Coats Viyella 7.5p to 40.5p and Devro 27p to 218p. Other casualties included Caradon, off 13.5p to 133.5p, and Telspec, down 77.5p to 97.5p.

Rexam, the struggling paper and packaging group, firmed 8p to 20.6.5p after Panmure Gordon made positive noises, suggesting the shares could go to 300p.

Manchester United, on the agreed but controversial BSkyB bid, rose 15.5p to 215.5p; the satellite television station gained 9p to 482p. British American Tobacco was puffed up a further 13p to 479p but its former financial side, Allied Zurich, remained shrouded in gloom, falling 56p to 730p.

Granada, the leisure group, held at 835p. There is talk that a major investment presentation is planned later this month.

Heavy trading took place in UPF, an engineering group. The shares stuck at 112p, near their year's high, as Seaq put volume at nearly 26 million. Charterhouse Tilney was said to be a heavy buyer.

Charterhouse also spoke up for Barratt Developments, the housebuilder due to report figures soon. It suggested the shares were a buy because of their defensive qualities and the possibility of a "substantial swing in investor sentiment". The investment house said year's profits of pounds 91m were likely with pounds 100m next time.

Logica, up 147.5p to 1,822.5p on results, helped other computer shares to shake off their recent gloom clouds.

Desire Petroleum, seeking oil and gas off the Falkland Islands, fell 10p to 137.5p following a link with another South Atlantic explorer, Sodra Petroleum, a Swedish group with a London quote. Desire, once at 445p, is to take a 12.5 per cent stake in a Sodra drilling exercise off the Falklands. Sodra held at 42.5p.

SEAQ VOLUME: 885.5m

SEAQ TRADES: 53,448

GILTS INDEX: 108.61 +0.41

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