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Market Report: US dampens Footsie's rate cut excitement

THERE WAS a time when a half-a-point base rate cut would have sent Footsie soaring into the stratosphere - not these days.

True, the index was at one time up 101 points. Yet by the close it looked decidedly uncertain, nursing a 0.4 fall at 5,939.9.

The truism that it is better to travel than arrive was one reason for the grudging response by blue chips. Another was that at least part of the interest rate decrease had already been discounted.

But it was New York, once again exerting its dominant influence, which was the major killjoy. Britain may be part of the European Union and may be reluctantly forced to embrace the euro but it is still America which rules stock market sentiment.

The Dow Jones Average, during London hours, wobbled on worries about today's US employment figures as well as suggestions of a credit tightening, and poor old Footsie took fright.

The rest of the market, although finishing below best levels, displayed more resolution with the mid cap and small cap indices continuing their New Year run.

The search for value on the under card, aided and abetted by yet more takeover activity, lifted the mid cap 19.4 to 5,232.6 and the small cap 18.9 to 2,201.4.

Only one mid cap constituent, casino and hotel group Stakis, actually collected a bid, a signalled 140p a share offer from an unidentified suitor, possibly Ladbroke although Whitbread is, in some quarters, regarded as a possible outsider. The shares rose 26p to 137p.

There was no shortage of rumoured candidates for bid attention. BICC, the cable and construction group, made further headway, up 4.5p to 82.5p in busy trading. Engineer FKI hardened 13p to 169p and chemical groups British Vita, 16.5p to 228.5p, and Croda International, 11p to 256.5p, were others swept up in speculative activity.

Airtours, where a bid from its big US shareholder Carnival Corporation is always a possibility, rose 35.5p to 421.5p, and First Choice 11.5p to 141.5p. Packaging group David S Smith, up 3.5p to 119p, was another rumoured to be on a hit list.

Two small cap companies were pulled into the bid frame. Swan Hill, a construction group, jumped 23p to 68.5p after reporting approaches and Chemring, a defence group that has had a difficult time, surged 43p to 149p as a bidder materialised.

Delphi, a computer group, firmed a further 57.5p to 550p as Adecco, a Swiss group, duly bid 550p.

Photobition, the display materials group, was 28p better at 260p after refusing to increase a bid. Its offer for printer Wace, trumped by Schawk, a US group, lapsed; as a consolation prize it took over for pounds 11m Service Visual, a graphic display company.

EMI, the showbiz group, was top of the Footsie pops, spinning 32p higher to 432p as Warburg Dillon Read upgraded to buy. Goldman Sachs lifted Carlton Communications 25.5p to 656.5p although the US investment house had less luck with BT. After it increased its target price to 1,100p, the telecom giant's shares soared 40p; but at the close they were down 3.5p at 950.5p.

Most telecoms were hit by New York's weakness although Cable & Wireless rose 33p to 865.5p as its One 2 One service picked up its two millionth customer, doubling in little more than a year.

The outbreak of a bread price war sliced Tesco 4.25p to 187.5p but made little impact on other supermarkets with Asda, drawing support from HSBC, up 3.5p to 159.75p, and J Sainsbury, trading statement today, 0.5p firmer at 429p. Safeway, with its comments on trading on Monday, gained 10.75p to 291p.

BTR Siebe made its debut at 253.5p, up 3.5p, although HSBC lowered its profit forecast to pounds 1.05bn from pounds 1.1bn and to pounds 1.22bn from pounds 1.28bn.

Imperial Chemical Industries firmed 9p to 527p on its widely predicted results.

GRE, the insurer, fell 6.75p to 357.5p with bidder Sun Life & Provincial off 28.5p to 501p. There is speculation that Sun's weakness could yet prompt a counter bid. When the bid was made it valued GRE at around 390p; after Sun's retreat the value is some 370p.

SmithKline Beecham rose 31p to 835.5p on reports the drugs group was on the verge of selling its pharmaceutical services division to a drugs retailer.

Oils were in better shape as the crude price edged ahead and some upbeat analytical comments appeared in the US. In busy trading BP Amoco flared 26p to 891p, and Shell, for long in the doldrums, put on 12.5p to 323p.

Scottish Media improved 42.5p to 865p. It said it was considering options over its 20 per cent shareholding in GMTV. There are reports that Scottish Media and GMTV's other minor shareholder, Guardian Media, are planning to sell their holdings to the two major shareholders, Carlton Communications and Granada .

Trafficmaster accelerated 89p to 641.5p after the company concluded a five- year deal to supply traffic information to the AA. It supplies a variety of products, from small screens to pagers, which can be fitted in cars. The deal should provide a substantial yearly fee, around pounds 3m in the first year, as well as revenue from the AA's use of the data.

Another vehicle group, Torotrak, was back on the uproad, gaining 12.5p to 95p. The multi gearbox maker has been in reverse for most of the time since it was demerged from BTG last summer. It started quoted life at 300p and last month was down to 65p. But suggestions of major deals with car makers are going the rounds and some expect a statement of a new link up next week.

Stockbroker Durlacher, specialising in high-tech shares, more than tripled interim profits but its shares shaded 12.5p to 800p.

Other stockbrokers, however, took heart. NRP, owning Teather & Greenwood, spurted 37.5p to a 135p peak. BWD rose 3.5p to 291.5p and Walker Crips Weddle Beck 2p to 87p.



GILTS INDEX: 115.78 -0.51

A COMPANY called EMU Capital, related to investor Roddie Thompson, has turned one of the smaller fund management groups into a nice little earner.

It acquired 25.47 per cent of Farlake at 250p a share last year. The shares have now been sold on - at 390p - producing a profit of pounds 835,000. The buyer is a German fund manager, Value Management and Research. Farlake shares, hoping for a bid, rose 10p to 385p.

EASYSCREEN, a little known company providing dealing systems for futures and options markets, is the current Ofex star.

Its shares arrived on the fringe, lightly regulated market at 167p four weeks ago. They have been in demand since. Although directors say this week they sold 60,000 shares at 330p and 370p to meet market demand, the price continues to move higher; yesterday it rose a further 45p to its best yet, 435p.