MFI touches five-year low as forecasts slashed

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MFI, the furniture group, was at one time bumping along at a five- year low as investors fretted about trading prospects.

The shares closed off 5p at 82p after touching 80p. Last year they were riding at 160p and topped 200p in 1996.

The stock market is worried about results for the year just ended. Forecasts have been pulled back and stockbroker Sutherlands thinks the group will produce only pounds 56m.

Interim profits were disappointing and a trading statement in March sent the shares tumbling.

There is talk chairman Derek Hunt is under institutional pressure. A series of investment meetings seem to have inspired little confidence, failing to support the shares.

Management changes have been made but institutions may demand a more sweeping shake-up.

The group's market image has not been helped by a series of profit warnings from related businesses. On Friday Allied Carpets added to the gloom. Others, like DFS and Carpetright, have highlighted the sharp slowdown in consumer spending.

Some fear MFI may feel obliged to join the trend and give a trading update which will not be encouraging.

As MFI wilted its old stable mate, the Asda superstores chain, fell 2p to 180.5p as it admitted abortive talks with Kingfisher. It is Asda's third unsuccessful expansion attempt; the company is beginning to look desperate to complete a deal. Kingfisher rose 5p to 1,072p.

Blue chips suffered their third reverse in a row. They were weighed down by growing anxiety about Indonesia and fears US interest rates will be driven higher this week. At one time Footsie was down 123.3 points; it ended 91.6 points off at 5,826.2.

Possibly for the first time, the Moscow stock market was also cited as a reason for the weakness. Panic selling with investors fearing a devaluation sent values tumbling nearly 12 per cent. Although still small Moscow has attracted significant amounts of foreign capital and its slump created considerable unease in some investment houses.

The mid cap index was - just - caught up in the gloom, ending a six-day winning streak with a modest 5.3 fall to 5,792.5. But the small cap index managed to ignore the climate, pushing ahead 2.3 to a 2,751.5 peak.

Hillsdown Holdings put on 3.5p to 189p as Unigate, off 17p at 668p hovered, contemplating a strike.

Christie International, the auctioneer, did actually attract a bid - from Artemis, the French group which recently snapped up 29 per cent from tycoon Joseph Lewis. Artemis bid 396p a share, sending Christie surging 75p to 387.5p.

Pearson was the best performing blue chip, up 81.5p to 1,027.5p, on the acquisition of US educational publisher Simon & Shuster.

Compass, the contract caterer rose, 28p to a 1,115p peak ahead of figures today. As if to overshadow the results Rentokil Initial, which has admitted casting an eye over Compass, rose 9p to 392p.

Cadbury Schweppes melted 2p to 905p after an analysts jaunt to its US soft drink operations. Rolls-Royce was lowered 3p to 187.75p; its US investment road show starts tomorrow and is said to have attracted strong interest. Cobham, the aerospace and defence engineer rose 14p to 1,147p ahead of an investment dinner at London's Claridges, hosted by Henderson Crosthwaite.

Halifax and Royal Bank of Scotland firmed on weekend reports of link up talks, Royal Bank denied any such discussions. Halifax ended 15.5p higher to 792p; Royal Bank 14p to 985.5p.

Vodafone was lowered 8p to 650p following a 4.45 million sale at 530p and Hanson lost 13p to 357p as house stockbroker ABN Amro moved from buy to hold.

Billiton, the resources group, is due to meet analysts this week. The shares fell 4.75p to 162p. Friday's huge placing, it transpires, was due to Sanlam & Rembrandt, a South African group, cutting its stake from 15.7 per cent to 10.9 per cent. S&R, which says it will retain its remaining shares, is involved in a corporate reorganisation, leading to demutualisation and a share listing in Johannesburg.

Newcomers had a mixed reception. Inter-Alliance, a national spread of financial advisers closed at 365p from a 325p placing; scientific publisher Taylor & Francis, placed at 200p, ended at 242.5p but Dimension Resources, placed at 30p, finished at 24p.

IT shares had another storming session. Misys rose 265p to 3,390p and Sage 47.5p to 1,457.5p. The pounds 1bn flotation of ComputaCenter is generating extra power for the sector.

International Public Relations rose 9.5p to 55p after denying it had agreed a take over bid but admitted it was in various sets of talks one of which could lead to an offer.

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