Promise of a party, then disappointment

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The Independent Online
It was the party that never was. With New York at a new high and bonds seemingly on the recovery trail many market men strode into their offices convinced the stock market was set for a rip-roaring session.

They were soon disappointed. A token gain; but no follow-through. Quickly, anticipation gave way to despair and the market was left scratching to find an explanation for what amounted to a share cop-out.

A variety of reasons was put forward. Worries about a currency crisis, turmoil in Mexico with a company reported to have defaulted on a loan, pressure on the Italian lira and even unease in Brazil.

But on the domestic front the Government's confusion over Europe seemed no worse than usual, the pound was steady and there was little to add to Wednesday's Whitehall statistics.

The FT-SE 100 index ended 23.8 points down at 3,051.1; Government stocks were little changed.

An inauspicious day then for the Government to announce the latest round of pricing in the National Power and PowerGen flotation. NP fell 2p to 467p and PG 3p to 490p.

Since the start of the year, as the Gencor share sale programme has gathered pace, NP has fallen from 489p and PG from 535p.

Standard Chartered starred on the banking pitch, ignoring a firm Hong Kong market to fall 8p to 259p. Results are due next month, with Yamaichi, the Japanese securities house, looking for a £74m increase to £475m.

According to Seaq, turnover nudged 3 million shares, with some detecting the old story that Lloyds Bank is on the verge of placing its 4.5 per cent share holding, a legacy from its unsuccessful 1986 take-over bid.

Barclays failed to draw any comfort from the re-emergence of the story that it intended a share buy-back following its results. The shares fell 8p to 611p.

Anglian Water fell 8p to 487p, with a rumoured 6.5 million shares on offer from Kleinwort Benson. Few, if any, of the shares were taken up.

Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the Anglo-French packaging and paper group, was another busily traded share, and the price edged 2p higher to 223p. MFI, the flat-pack furniture business, also enjoyed attention, with chunky lines going through. The price was little changed at 115.5p.

Reuters, the information group, put on 11p to 444p, with NatWest Securities making positive noises; the same investment house lifted British Aerospace 10.5p to 482p.

Cadbury Schweppes, splashing out £1.1bn for control of Dr Pepper/Seven- Up, the US soft drinks group, improved 6.5p to 425p as Barclays de Zoete Wedd supported the shares.

Unigate fell 4p to 352p as Sandoz, the Swiss group, poured cold water on stories that it was about to pounce on Nutricia, the Dutch baby food group where Unigate has a 32 per cent interest.

In recent months, stories have often surfaced in Amsterdam suggesting Unigate is about to pocket more than £400m from the sale of its interest.

The Sandoz comment lowered Hazlewood Foods, one of Unigate's rumoured targets, 2p to 111p.

Wellcome stuck at 1,023p, while Zeneca, reflecting the unlikely rumour that it will emerge as the beleaguered drugs group's white night, tumbled 15p to 895p. Glaxo dipped 2p to 641p. Fisons, expected to sell its troublesome scientific intruments side as part of a restructuring exercise, added 2p to 118p.

British Steel edged forward 0.75p to 152.25p on the Government's promise to crack down on European steel subsidies.

Two profit warnings towards the close added to the air of despondency. Norcros, the building materials group, tumbled 17p to 80p, and EBC, a builder, warned its dividend would be cut. The shares held at 61p but are expected to fall today.

The house-builder Bellwinch dipped 1p to 36p despite a sharp interim profits increase and a return to the dividend list.

WMGO, the advertising group, issued another profit warning, falling 2p to 9.5p. The shares touched 35.5p last year.

Westminster Healthcare fell 38p to 293p. Results were in line with expectations; stories of an abandoned rights issue did much of the damage.

Southern Business, the photocopier distributor, rose 7p to 59p, accompanied by talk of a bid from Danka Business Systems, the US controlled group which is said to be a target for a Canadian group. Both parties dismissed the gossip.

Chiroscience, the drugs group, rose 4p to 123p as Yamaichi said the first two drugs to be developed had a combined value of £162m against the group's market valuation of £80m.

Enterprise Computer was suspended at 3p. A year ago the shares were 31.5p. Last month they were active on rumours that the group had struck a deal with its bankers. But the trading halt was called "pending clarification" of the financial position. A statement should be made today.

Casket, after Thursday's profit warning, put on 1p to 15.5. Shortly after the announcement the shares hit 11p.