Out of step with New York

Shares hit a new high for the year as what has become a gradual, if unspectacular rally continued.

In often brisk trading the FT-SE 100 index reached 3,226.2 points, up 11.3. It has moved ahead five days in succession although best gains have not always been held.

The stock market's recent strength and its apparent ability to shrug off unhelpful developments has encouraged many observers to take the view that the market could, after all, enjoy a strong 1995.

The most optimistic estimates for the year-end stretch to Footsie at 3,900 points although political upsets could easily destroy such ambitions.

Many have been puzzled about London's surprising inability to keep in touch with the Dow, which has roared through 4,300 points. A yawning 1,000 points difference between the two indices is a development which taxes the memories of some of the older market campaigners.

They ponder whether New York has taken leave of its senses; or London is out of touch with reality.

One intriguing development has been a turnover increase in the past few days. Although programme trades have tended to distort the final volume, there is little doubt more investors are being gently prised off the sidelines. Programme trades ballooned the count.

The government stocks auction helped set the day's tone. After much debate, it would appear the market is now prepared to take in its stride the expected interest rate increase early next month.

Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the packaging and paper group, was the best performing blue chip, presumably on the theory that St Louis, the French food group, was, once again, on the verge of selling its 40 per cent interest ahead of a bid for the group. With suspected AWA boardroom discord adding strength to the rumour the shares rose 8p to 268p. Asda was another creating interest. In busy trading the shares gained 2.25p to 82.5p, highest for four years. In 1992 they slumped below 22p. The group, revitalised by Archie Norman, is thought to be planning to flex its muscles.

On the trading front it seems better placed than its bigger rivals to improve its profit margins and recently Philip Dorgan at Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull said the shares should hit 100p.

Asda is likely to receive a cash injection when Allied Carpets, where it has up to a 50 per cent interest, is floated. This should lead to a share buy-back or special dividend, but is unlikely before the autumn.

Hays, the business support and transport group, slipped 4p to 301p as Smith New Court repeated its negative attitude towards the shares.

There is a feeling that corporate action could involve Hays which has an impressive profits record. NFC, the old National Freight Corporation, looks a sitting duck but it is thought Hays would not want to take on the problems.

Hays is thought to have no interest in MR Data Management, often suggested as a bid target.

Inchcape took over as the market's favourite bid candidate, gaining 7p to 334p. Earlier this year, with profits in decline, the shares hit 274p.

Recovery hopes are also in the air but many cannot ignore the group's obvious attraction to Jardine Matheson, the Far Eastern group.

Fisons was again actively traded, firming to 185p on continuing speculation Zeneca plans to barge into its proposed merger with Medeva, down 7p at 244p. Zeneca slipped 7p to 912p.

National Express roared back to market, following its suspension while it acquired West Midlands Travel, a worker-owned bus group, in a £240m deal. Halted at 317p the shares closed at 360p.

VSEL climbed 20p to a new 1,675p peak on its decision to pay a 30p special dividend ahead of the Whitehall decision on the British Aerospace and GEC bids. BAe, scenting success, climbed 14p to 534p; GEC rose 4p to 303p.

Oils continued to score gains with Shell leading the pack, up 9p at 743p.

Signet, the jewellery chain which used to be called Ratners, firmed 0.5p to 16p. The management is under pressure to break up the group. One suggestion is that Argos, up 3.5p to 406p, will buy the UK side.

Bespak, continuing to encounter problems, fell 50p to 253p. Bank of Scotland produced profits of £449.7m, leaving the shares little changed at 220p.

Kelt Petroleum closed at 44p. Hubert Perroda, with 75 per cent, is bidding for the outstanding shares at 50p. Anglo United, thinking of selling Coalite, firmed to 1.75p. Costain, the struggling builder, rose 1.5p to 13.75p on hopes of a bid.

Caledonian Media Communications was firm at 28p as Nicholas Berry's Stancroft Trust took its stake to 22.84 per cent, buying 1 million shares.

Ugland International's alliance with one of the biggest privately-owned ship owners in the US, lifted the shares 5p to 105p.

The FT-SE 100 index rose 11.3 points to 3,226.2 and the FT-SE 250 index 6.1 to 3,517.6. Turnover was 768.4 million shares with 24,476 bargains. Gilts gained up to £1/2.

Shares in Fine Art Developments, the greeting cards group, improved 22p to 373p. There is growing speculation that the company intends to sell its 15 per cent interest in Grattan Warehouse, the German controlled mail order group. Profits for the year are expected to be unexciting, little changed at around £38.5m. The shares have climbed from a low of 320p this year.

Plantation & General, which reported a surge in profits from £217,000 to £3.9m, is planning to float its Langdons Foods off-shoot. The share sale is being handled by Ellis & Partners, the stockbrokers, and dealings are expected to get under way at the end of next month. Langdons, which was established in 1963, supplies a range of coffees and teas, mainly to caterers and hoteliers.