The interim figures from J Sainsbury are responsible for the ragged retreat. They demonstrated that the supermarket groups are coming under increasing pressure and the shares no longer deserved their glamour rating.
Sainsbury was a "rude awakening" for many in the market, said one broker.
The four supermarket leaders represented approaching a sixth of stock market volume with Asda alone responsible for a remarkable 37.9 million turnover. Tesco commanded approaching 19 million; Argyll more than 17 million, Sainsbury 9.5 million. The cut-price shares struggled to get support. Asda fell 4.25p to 95.5p (after 94p) and Argyll lost 11p to 301p after hitting 292p. Tesco lost 7p to 286p and Sainsbury went to 391p, off 12p, representing a two day fall of 33p.
The results from Kwik Save failed to spray around any confidence, leaving the discounter's shares limping 68p lower at 610p. Boots, off 11p to 540p, added to the retail gloom while Marks & Spencer, apparently suffering from Barclays de Zoete Wedd caution, lost 10p to 407p.
The supermarket carnage clipped more than 3.5 points from the FT-SE 100 index which, inspired by New York, managed to improve 4.3 to 3,523.
But as most retailers wilted, Asprey, the jeweller, sparkled to 127p, up 19p. Stories flowed that bid action was imminent with a Far Eastern buyer preparing to strike. A management buy-out was also mooted. The shares have collapsed from 375p as the jeweller plunged into losses but the group, also embracing Garrards and Mappin & Webb, appointed Ian Dahl, ex Marks & Spencer, as chief executive in August.
Essex Furniture failed to resist the retail retreat, falling 3p to 102p with profits down from pounds 1.4m to pounds 1.04m. The company is currently completing an 18 month accounting period. There are hopes profits could top pounds 3m in the next full year. Kingfisher was also in form as it completed its US investment presentations to 15 institutions. The shares rose 2p to 480p with a modest profit pounds 10m upgrade to pounds 325m for next year by Charterhouse Tilney helping sentiment. Sources close to the group rejected suggestions it planned to barge into furniture retailing.
Albright & Wilson, the chemical group, fell 6p to 154p, only 4p above February's scaled down flotation price. There is talk of profit downgrades in the air. Fears of trading gloom at David S Smith, the packaging group, lowered the shares 16p to 564p.
Sotheby, the auctioneer, rose 40p to 920p as a 1 million buy back of "A" shares was announced. Rolls-Royce, the aero engine group which has been finding the altitude too rich, managed a 1p gain to 153p. The group is apparently engaged in a series of investment meetings, hoping to nullify a bearish stockbroker report which has pulled the shares back from above 190p.
TSB put on 5p to 381p on continuing speculation about a counter bid to the Lloyds Bank deal; Forte rose 6p to 255p as an institution picked up shares at 253p.
Lonrho was unchanged at 154.5p as Dutton-Forshaw , the group's main car dealership, was said to be the next disposal target of crusading chief executive Dieter Bock. Evans Halshaw, the garage group, reversed a further 20p to 298p with Ryland off 5p at 79p.
Telspec, the electronic group, jumped 110p to 1,045p; a 300,000 share trade by Credit Lyonnais Laing at 1,000p caused the excitement. Tadpole Technology rose 6p to 80p on talk a significant contract will accompany the announcement of the forthcoming figures. United News gained 15p more to 532p as the departure of Sir Nicholas Lloyd as editor of the Daily Express heightened talk the newspapers will be sold.
Whitehall clearance of North West Water's pounds 1.8bn swoop on Norweb was announced as the market closed. NNW firmed 2p to 997p and Norweb was up 30p at 1,185p.
On the lively insurance pitch GRE, helped along by an analyst meeting and talk of a German strike, gained 9p to 240p. In oils Shell, off 17p at 729p, reflected a cautious trading statement.
Cortecs International gained another 2p to 120p. After a pounds 2.8m loss this year, Greig Middleton expect profits of pounds 1.1m and then pounds 17.5m.
Cluff Resources, the gold miner, jumped 14.5p to 75p as the company disclosed it had received a bid approach.
r Shares of Queensborough Holdings, the aspiring leisure group run by Kevin Leech, the chairman of ML Laboratories, are expected to be suspended today. The group has agreed a leisure takeover which will be partly financed by a pounds 12.5m rights issue. Mr Leech is taking up his entitlement and hopes to lift his stake to 29.9 per cent. Queensborough, unchanged at 1.25p on the USM, is expected to return as a fully-listed company.
r Stordata Solutions, the computer data group pumped into the old Millgate car alarm business, firmed to 17.5p. The new management is expected to revitalise the car alarms operation and expand the data side, possibly through acquisitions. The company is ungeared and Stordata should make profits of at least pounds 1.5m this year.Reuse content