Signs the bull run may be over as Footsie slides again

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Equities wobbled again with Footsie falling a further 71.5 points, making a 153.3 two-day retreat. On the surface it looked as though the stock market had been smashed by a wave of panicky selling. But Seaq turnover, at 1.36 billion shares, highest for some time, was heavily distorted by a share buy-back.

Thorn, the rental arm demerged from the EMI showbiz group nearly a year ago, said in May it intended to return pounds 87m to shareholders through the issue of "B" shares.

SBC Warburg commenced what is, in effect, a shareholder friendly share buy-back by buying the new "B" shares on behalf of Thorn at around 20.25p. The offer remains open until 15 August.

Shareholders with nearly 80 per cent of the capital jumped at the opportunity to unload. Warburg dealt heavily with volume reaching almost 690 million. So after stripping out the Thorn contribution it was, in trading terms, a pretty ordinary day in the market.

Footsie's display, however, gave the impression of more dramatic events, a Black Monday following a Grey Friday. The two-day fall rekindled talk the end of the bull market was near.

Early New York hesitancy ahead of today's Congress presentation by Alan Greenspan, the US banking chief, was another temperature lowering influence.

After all, at his last Congressional meeting in December Mr Greenspan sent shivers through the market with talk about "irrational exuberance" and the "collapsing financial asset bubble".

After Friday's New York sell-off blue chips had been expected to be in the dumps. An erratic US display during London opening, with the Dow Jones Average swinging between gains and losses, failed to offer any comfort.

Commercial Union, the insurance group never far from the influence of speculative interest, was the day's best performing blue chip. The shares ignored the gloom and the general retreat, gaining 11p to 694.5p. Normally BAT Industries is the name in the frame. This time round ABN Amro, the Dutch group owning stockbroker Hoare Govett, was cited as the most likely buyer.

Continental groups are known to be eyeing British insurers and ABN Amro has shown some aggressive tendencies. BATs involvement centres on its Allied Dunbar and Eagle Star operations, which are likely to be floated as a stand-alone company. There is a suspicion the two BAT off-shoots would benefit from being pumped into a big quoted insurer, such as CU. BATs fell 3.5p to 517.5p.

Imperial Tobacco and Tomkins were among other blue chips to move ahead but it was an 11.5p gain to 825p by Boots which captured attention. The retail chain's shares are at a peak with vague talk of corporate activity. The yearly shareholders' meeting takes place on Thursday and, at the very least, the market is looking for a bullish trading statement.

BT had another wounding session, falling 14.5p to 415.5p in more busy trading. Many market players have been severely wounded by the near MCI disconnection and the subsequent share collapse from 501.5p. Desperate efforts are being made to cover positions.

The BT disarray is seen in some quarters as the type of incident which could signal the possible end of the bull run. Ionica, the telephone hopeful which arrived in its when-issued form on Friday, fell 20.5p to 400.5p.

Prudential Corporation and National Westminster Bank failed to draw any strength from the still rumbling merger story. The Pru gave up 25p to 561p and NatWest 7p to 859.5p.

Vickers purred forward 3p to 180p on BMW's reported interest in its Rolls- Royce division and Stagecoach gained 17p to 737p ahead of today's results.

British Airways was lowered 21p to 662.5p as the market fretted about the combined impact of the strong pound and the group's labour unrest.

Ladbroke, the betting and hotel group buying a Colorado casino, fell 5.5p to 258.5p despite stories of a bid from Hilton Hotels Corporation of America.

United Utilities was the main casualty, falling 69.5p to 699.5p on the sudden departure of chief executive Brian Staples. In addition to the market gloom British Land had to contend with cautious comments from Credit Lyonnais Laing, which reduced its stance from buy to hold. The shares fell 12.5p to 611.5p.

Proteus International, the drugs group, rose 3.5p to 48.5p, ahead of its shareholders' meeting today and a presentation at stockbroker Panmure Gordon.

Taking Stock

After a number of false dawns Aminex, with oil and gas interests in the former Soviet Union, is at last about to clinch its deal in Tatarstan; a statement is expected in the next few days. Tatarstan is around 450 miles from Moscow. The deal will dramatically increased Aminex's reserves. Russian shareholders have a big stake in the company; so has the World Bank. The shares fell 2p to 82.5p.

Torex, a tool hire group which branched out into electronic point of sales software, continues to develop its new love. Its BIT operation has landed a near pounds 3m deal and its order book is running 125 per higher than last year.

Group profits should be pounds 2.4m this year with pounds 2.8m next. Torex shares gained 3p to 66.5p.

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