Market Report: US interest rate worries halt London's march

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The Independent Online
SHARE prices struggled to remain in positive territory yesterday following the release of economic data leading to fresh concerns about US interest rates.

The data from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's October prices index sent prices on Wall Street sharply lower, and virtually erased all the advances that had been made in London.

An hour before Wall Street kicked in the FT-SE 100 share index was 22.4 points higher. But with the Dow Jones sliding quickly to minus 30 in early dealings, the FT-SE 100 was sent scuttling back to 3,063.2 - a rise of 2.4 points on the day.

London's early march, for once, could be linked to genuine trading. Total volume yesterday was 660 million shares - nothing startling but good compared with recent sessions.

That leading shares overall managed to record an advance was largely due to drinks analysts at several broking houses casting a favourable eye over the brewers ahead of next month's start to the sector's reporting season.

James Capel changed its view of the sector, advising clients to go from being underweight to overweight. Lehman Brothers and Smith New Court also made recommendations on individual drink shares.

Scottish & Newcastle, the most favoured by Capel, advanced 11p to 519p.

Whitbread added 8p to 549p, and Bass gained 5p to 541p. All three are constituents of the FT-SE 100.

Other movers in the sector included Greenalls, the pub and hotels company, which firmed 1p to 416p, and Greene King, the East Anglian brewer, which added 6p to 529p.

British Airways was another FT-SE 100 stock to do well, increasing 8p to 382p after American Airlines produced solid quarterly figures. BAA hardened a penny to 508p.

Other transport shares were in the doldrums. Eurotunnel suffered from another embarrassing breakdown of one of its Eurostar trains, packed with hundreds of journalists for a publicity trip to Paris.

Eurotunnel units hit an all- time intra-day low and a closing low. Amid the fiasco of the company's attempts to locate a replacement train, the share price dropped to 194p. It closed at 199p, down 12p on the day.

A main competitor to Eurotunnel also had a rough session. Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation, which has the lion's share of the ferry trade between Dover and Calais, fell 12p to 604p, with Nomura advising investors to take profits.

More than 2.6 million P&O shares were traded, and some delayed deals were registered at 599p towards the close. The price was also affected by reports that the European Union was to review transatlantic freight rate agreements.

VSEL, the submarine maker, gained 20p to pounds 13.20 on speculation of a counter-bid by GEC to the offer on the table from British Aerospace. A possible all-cash offer of pounds 13.60 from GEC, down 2p to 152p, was again talked about. BAe firmed 2p to 480p.

Smiths Industries continued to benefit from favourable reaction to its results announcement on Wednesday, rising 4p to 451p - making a two-day gain of 11p.

Rolls-Royce shares were also in demand and firmed 2.5p to 177p.

Attwoods moved another 1p away from the 109p per share takeover bid from Browing Ferris Industries, to trade at 113p as details of NatWest Securities' thoughts on the battle did the rounds.

NatWest reckons a break-up of Attwoods would be worth 140p per share and that Browning could afford to raise its offer 15 per cent before suffering any earnings dilution.

The 8.5 per cent convertible preference shares in Attwoods eased 0.5p to 88.5p as Salomon Brothers picked up 1 million at 88.5p each. The effective yield at the market price is 10 per cent.

Elsewhere, there was a long list of casualties. Amstrad lost 1.75p to 25.25p on disappointing annual results.

Videologic added its name to the recent crop of new-issue disasters with a fall of 4.5p to 22.5p - half its summer flotation price - after announcing more trading losses.

ServisAir, however, moved ahead 9p to 149p, having started life on the market earlier this week at 135p.

Shares in Hampson Industries look set to run into some turbulence today. The mini-conglomerate based in the Midlands issued an after-hours warning that full-year profits were unlikely to meet market expectations despite an increase in second-half results. Demand in the furniture and aerospace sectors was disappointing, the company said. Shares closed unchanged at 66p.

Investors who bought into Azlan when it floated at 230p a share a year ago were left considerably poorer yesterday. The shares dived 32p to 128p.

Strong rumours of more bad news were dismissed by a spokesman, who said the computer products group had no concerns about current trading. There was also talk that an institution was trying to sell a large block of shares.

A weak opening on Wall Street took the gloss off share prices in London yesterday afternoon. The FT-SE 100 index, ahead 22.4 points before Wall Street opened, finished just 2.4 higher at 3,063.2. The FT-SE 250 closed 3.7 better at 3,524.9.

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