Market Report: WS Atkins damaged in West Coast row

The fallout from the fiasco over the West Coast line franchise continues to reverberate, with WS Atkins' shares tumbling nearly 5 per cent because of questions about the advice it gave the Department of Transport. Atkins provided "technical support" to the Whitehall department during the botched awarding of the franchise to FirstGroup. Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, had to backtrack this week because his civil servants had used faulty figures. The saga could cost the department up to £40m.

"We do not believe there are any issues concerning the quality of the advice that we provided," insisted a spokesman for Atkins, which provides architectural and engineering design services for big public-sector clients, which have included the Olympics and Crossrail.

But traders were jittery. The broker Espirito Santo said: "Should any review find Atkins to have been at fault during this tender process, then clearly it could have a negative reputational impact for the group." Shares in Atkins, which have risen more than 30 per cent on a year ago, fell 34p to 695p.

Looking to next week, the big news will be the flotation of the insurer Direct Line, owner of brands including Churchill. Traders at ETX Capital say they are seeing demand in the "grey market" before official trading begins. Having opened this week at 175p-185p, they say the shares are now being pencilled in at 179p-189p, giving a value of around £2.8bn.

The FTSE 100 index was subdued, moving up 43.24 points to 5,871.02 points, as traders digested a drop in US unemployment.

WPP rose 18.5p to 878p after the consumer goods giant Unilever, one of the world's biggest advertisers, handed Sir Martin Sorrell's marketing group a big chunk of its media budget. WPP's Mindshare has got the lion's share, including most of Europe and North America.

Tesco was one of the bigger fallers. The shares dropped for the third day in a row, down 2.8p to 315.35p, after the supermarkets giant announced its first half-year profit fall in 18 years on Wednesday.

Analysts remain unconvinced that Tesco knows how to move the brand beyond price promotions.

Wm Morrison was another grocer to feel the squeeze. Dalton Philips, chief executive, talked of plans to open 70 of its M-local smaller shops before the end of 2013. But analysts zeroed in on how underlying sales fell by 0.9 per cent in the half-year to 29 July. The shares dropped 2.2p to 278.2p.

Goldman Sachs is feeling bearish about property amid fears that a new round of City job cuts and a flatlining economy are going to push down on London office rents in 2013. The bank downgraded a raft of property stocks, including Great Portland Estates, British Land and Land Securities, which all took an initial tumble. "We believe positive catalysts (both at the macro and micro level) have passed or faded for now," said Goldman in its chunky note, although it reckoned rents should still grow "on a more muted basis". The bank is pencilling in a rise of just 2 per cent in the City but 7 per cent for the West End.

But traders shook off that gloom later in the day. Great Portland Estates ended up 0.4p at 450.9p, British Land was unchanged at 521.5p and Land Securities bounced 4p to 775p.

Among the tiddlers, the online exchange Blur Group made its debut on Aim, with an initial public offering that raised £4m before expenses at 82p a share. It closed at 84.75p, giving a total valuation of just over £20m. Optimists who say London remains a good place for tech firms to list will take comfort from the IPO of Blur, which lets clients commission marketing and technology work from agencies and individuals. But the truth remains that the number of tech IPOs in London this year can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Several other small stocks caught traders' attention. One recent Aim arrival, the oil and gas explorer Bridge Energy, which floated just over a week ago, advanced 6.5p to 131.5p on the completion of the Boa Field Acquisition, which sits between UK and Norwegian waters.

Aim-listed Avarae Global Coins, the UK's only listed rare-coin dealer, was less in demand. First-half sales have dropped by two-thirds as it "did not benefit this year from the strong performance in our coins in the Hong Kong auction of August last year". The shares initially fell, before closing unchanged at 10.63p. It was that kind of day.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz