Oil majors give erratic New York the cold shoulder

DEREK PAIN

The unpredictable US employment figures, which have achieved a justified reputation for tripping share markets, were at it again yesterday.

Footsie, looking distraught for most of the morning session, suddenly plunged more than 50 points as alarm bells echoed around the stock market about New York's likely response to strong US jobless figures. In the event the Dow Jones Average survived, at least during London opening, the jobs data in rather better shape than had appeared likely; so by the close Footsie's alarmist fall had been cut to 30.4 points at 4,056.6. The weakness of the Tokyo market was once again largely ignored.

Oils and power shares were oblivious to the machinations of US statistics. The prospects of more cold weather helped the major oil groups higher and it was the continuing takeover speculation, plus hopes of positive trading developments, which kept second-liners on the boil.

Cairn Energy rose a further 17p to a 485.5p peak although the headlong advance of British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate slowed with a modest 10.5p gain to 1,021p. Lasmo was the day's best-performing blue chip, up 8p to 243.5p.

Panmure Gordon recently put a 300p valuation on the shares, but any bidder, and there is a growing suspicion one might appear soon, would probably have to pay around 350p.

National Power and PowerGen, the generators, continued to defy gravity. There is persistent demand for the shares which can only partly be due to dividend yield considerations. PG surged 9p to 596p, taking it to near its year's high. NP rose 11p to 478.5p.

Stores were rattled by the surprisingly downbeat Argos trading statement. Argos slumped 110p to 623p, unsettling Next, off 22.5p at 529p; Great Universal Stores 22.5p to 580p; Marks & Spencer 17p to 465.5p and Dixons 13.5p to 494p.

Lloyds Chemists added 14p to 526.5p as one of the bidders, the German Gehe group, lifted its bid to 525p and moved into the market, building a 20.91 per cent stake.

Financials, on hopes of corporate activity, were strong with M&G, the unit trust group, 79p higher at 1,199p. Hambros, the merchant bank which saw off the unwelcomed attention of corporate raiders Regent Pacific last year, gained 16p to 253p as SBC Warburg drew attention to its controlling stake in high-flying Hambro Countrywide. The estate agent was unchanged at 111p after climbing from 36p in the past year.

John D Wood, the estate agent, is expected to produce figures later this month; around pounds 1.2m is expected. The shares fell 2p to 87.5p.

Fenchurch, the insurance broker, seems set to collect the rumoured bid. The shares rose 8.5p to 66.5p after merger talks with Lowndes Lambert, up 7p at 110p, were announced.

The proposed deal is the latest example of consolidation in the insurance broking industry. More get-togethers are expected.

Ryland, the garage group, motored 28p to 107.5p after reporting a bid approach and Arabis, an engineer and jewellery group which used to be called Excalibur, moved ahead 5.5p to 22p as bid talks opened.

Imperial Chemical Industries remained under the whip of the HSBC James Capel downgrading, falling 16p to 735p after touching 716.5p. P&O, on Kleinwort Benson support, rose 17p to 620p.

The market continued to awaken to the problems sterling's strength holds for many groups. Tate & Lyle was lowered 16.5p to 468.5p as UBS downgraded on currency concerns. The three spirit giants were also on the receiving end of currency worries. Allied Domecq lost 8p to 424.5p; Grand Metropolitan 13p to 432.5p and Guinness 3p to 436.5p.

NatWest Securities knocked Williams Holdings, the conglomerate, 7.5p to 336.5p by repeating its sell advice. It believes Williams' sum-of-the- parts valuation is 317p.

SIG, the former Sheffield Insulation, rose 9.5p to a 274.5p peak. Buy circulars appeared this week from Teather & Greenwood and Merrill Lynch and a 280p agency cross intrigued the market. T&G is looking for profits of pounds 33m last year, up from pounds 24.1m. This year's estimate is pounds 40m.

Superframe, reflecting Dean Corporation's control of 25.8 per cent of the photoframe group's capital, gained 2p to 20p.

Atlantic Telecom rose 3p to a 150.5p peak on ABN Amro Hoare Govett support.

Fulmar, which came to market last year, gained 3.5p to 165p after doubling its turnover by paying pounds 1.25m for City printer WR Royle.

Taking Stock

r JBA, the software developer, is riding high, partly on hopes it will make a killing by contributing to solving the computer millennium problem. Kleinwort Benson is thought to have produced a buy note and NatWest Securities is also putting pen to paper. JBA, with US quote ambitions, should have produced profits of around pounds 13m last year and pounds 16m is likely this year. The shares, floated at 160p in the summer of 1994, are near their high at 641.5p. They would be higher if a US valuation was applied.

r Shares of Partco, the Coventry-based group ranking as the nation's largest car parts distributor, have accelerated as winter's grip has tightened. They have climbed 32.5p to 354p this month on thoughts about the damage to cars from road grit and salt treatment.

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