Mixed fortunes for financials as Footsie moves strongly ahead

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The Independent Online
Conflicting influences were at work in the financial sector yesterday, ensuring that one bank headed the list of Footsie climbers, while another suffered the biggest blue-chip fall.

Standard Chartered, which derives more than 30 per cent of group profits from Hong Kong, has in recent months plumbed new depths after the turmoil in Far Eastern markets. Yesterday, though, things took a turn for the better. The company has taken a group of analysts out to the Far East to reassure them about exposure to the Hong Kong and Thai markets. The ploy seems to have succeeded, as the bank closed up 49p at 692p, the biggest gainer on the Footsie.

Brokers had a more malign influence on another bank, Lloyds TSB. ABN Amro Hoare Govett, the house broker, has downgraded its forecasts for 1997. Lloyds shed 22p to end the session at 684p, and Barclays lost its shine in sympathy, dropping 24p to pounds 14.49.

Other financial stocks continued to bask in the reflected glory of the Merrill Lynch bid for Mercury Asset Management. Schroders had another field day, up 75p to pounds 18.90. Meanwhile, ED&F Man, the financial services and commodities company, firmed 12p to 229.5p after a 51 per cent increase in interim profits.

Snapping at the heels of the financials, Granada Group was in demand, finishing up 43p to 843p. The market liked the 35 per cent increase in profit before tax and exceptional items to pounds 650m. Buy notes from Societe Generale, Lehman Brothers, SBC Warburg, and Kleinwort Benson also buoyed the stock.

Lasmo was among the other Footsie high-flyers as good results from a test drilling in Algeria greased the ropes for the oil giant, sending it up 13p to 279p.

Elsewhere, Capital Industries, the paper and packaging company, had its fair share of bid speculation yesterday. Market rumours suggest that a big European paper company may have made an informal approach. Capital improved 12.5p to 142.5p. Dealers say Rutland Trust may be prepared to sell its stake in the company in order to fund another acquisition.

Allied Colloids, the speciality chemicals group, continued to gain on confirmation it had received a bid approach. It closed up 14.5p to 139.5p.

UniChem pipped Allied at the post for the trophy of biggest riser in the Footsie 250 index, though. The announcement of a merger with Alliance Sante sent UniChem soaring 58p to 346p. The deal will create Europe's second-largest drugs wholesale and retail company.

Footsie was in the blue most of the day, encouraged by a rally overnight in Tokyo, and a firm opening on Wall Street. A benign set of economic figures also helped ensure Footsie closed up 78.3 points, a whisker over the 4,900 mark at 4,908.4.

Several stocks benefited from disposals. Powell Duffryn added 13p to 444.5p after selling Eurogas, its liquefied petroleum gas heating fuel unit, to Calor Gas, raising pounds 13.5m. ICI ended 26p better off at 857p after selling its UK fertiliser business for pounds 200m.

There were some red flecks among many of the second liners, though. Croda International had a bumpy time after saying the strength of the pound and the turbulence in the Asian markets had hit performance in the nine months to September. It lost 6.5p to end at 357.5p, and received no help from SBC Warburg, which was making negative noises. Credit Lyonnais Laing was also bearish, cutting its 1997 pre-tax profits forecasts by pounds 2m to pounds 41m.

For the second day running, the numbers failed to add up for Ionica Group. It led the second division fallers once again, down 11p at 145.5p. Yesterday, it managed to drag fellow telecom company, COLT Telecom, into the doldrums. COLT finished 13.5p poorer at 585p.

Manchester United took a knock after the football club's chief executive, Martin Edwards, said he was discussing a possible transfer bid for Marcello Salas, the Chilean international striker. Marketmakers, worried that the club was about to spend unwisely, got out the red pens, and sent the shares down 7.5p to 616.5p.

People problems also depressed Save Group, the petrol retailer. It ended its managing director's contract, and saw its shares tumble 2.5p to 97.5p.