Surge expected as strategists boost Footsie forecast; MARKET REPORT

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The Independent Online
As equities wilted and what could be the first crack appeared in the all-conquering financial sector two of the City's most closely followed strategists suggested the stock market was set to surge for the next two years.

Nicholas Knight and Allison Southey at Nomura upgraded this year's Footsie forecast from 4,400 points to 4,800 and next from 4,800 to 5,200. Until the Nomura upgrade Chase seemed to be the most optimistic forecaster with a 4,700 estimate. Mr Knight admitted he was "somewhat reluctant" to lift his predictions but felt the current scenario could point to an even stronger performance than the new targets.

Footsie started brightly enough but found the going increasingly tough and when New York reopened on a hesitant note it lost any semblance of enthusiasm, ending 5.5 points down at 4,332.3.

Some observers were unsettled by the reaction to Barclays' disappointing figures. Financials, with Barclays among the front runners, have led this year's market advance and fears have been expressed shares could fall back sharply if financials lose their way.

Barclays fell 70.5p to 1,129p. Although some banks moved ahead National Westminster was caught in the Barclays slipstream, falling 31p to 803.5p. Standard Chartered slipped 3p to 803.5p as some fretted about its figures.

Britannic, the insurer, jumped 66.5p to 870p as its orphan funds produced an expected dividend of 23p, an 82 per cent increase. A more progressive dividend policy will be based on the 23p platform.

But the Britannic performance did not bring joy to other insurers. Industry peer Prudential Corporation, where there is some confusion over its orphan estate, fell 8.5p to 564.5p.

Grey market trading started in the when-issued form of Hanson and Energy shares. Hanson ended at 300p and Energy at 533.5p. Ladbroke, said to be thinking about barging into the casino bid battle between London Clubs International and Capital Corporation, lost 4.5p to 232.5p. London Clubs added 3p to 381.5p and Capital 10p to 196.5p.

Rolls-Royce firmed 1.5p to 221.5p as Lehman Brothers took a slightly more positive stance. Oils were mixed, with weakening crude prices eroding confidence. But Emerald Energy, ahead of Friday's presentation, touched 8.25p, settling at 7.75p, up 1.5p. Clyde Petroleum, falling to the contested Gulf Canada strike, rose 2p to 118.5p.

Argos, the catalogue stores chain, was the best-performing blue chip. The shares rose 21.5p to 695p, said to be reflecting the likelihood of unchanged interest rates. Boots, however, dipped 13p to 688p with UBS said to be negative.

Stagecoach was again ruffled by its South West Trains fiasco, retreating 27.5p to 692.5p. Railtrack moved ahead a further 4.5p ahead of its investment presentation.

Scotia, the drugs group, was at one time down 52p as the bearish Greig Middleton circular appeared. The shares closed at 650p, off 29.5p. The stockbroker fears a cash call of up to pounds 60m in the next six months. Its current "fair value" estimate is 229, rising to 600p at the start of 1999.

Plantation & General jumped 9p to 61.5p as famed fund manager Nick Roditi appeared with a possible offer around 58p. The market thinks Mr Roditi will use the company as a vehicle for his own interests or pump a business into it.

Williams Holdings, conducting one-to-one investment meetings with fund managers after a presentation on Monday, managed a 6p gain to 305p. Shandwick, the public relations group rocked by defections, fell 3.5p to 56.75p.

Centrica had another unrewarding day, falling a further 1.75p to 63.5p; BG gained 1.5p to 176p.

Whitbread was ruffled by an ABN Amro Hoare Govett "sell" note, falling 13p to 791.5p. Granada's Welcome Break and hotel sales left the shares down 1p at 928.5p. Relief that Asda's Welcome Break bid had been unsuccessful lifted the superstore shares 1.25p to 116p.

Newcomer Infobank, a software house, touched 150p, settling at 144p. Placing price was 125p. Computer group CMG was again in demand. The shares jumped 40p to a 1,165p peak.

The day's profit warning appeared from video group VTR, down 20p at 55.5p.

Fortune Oil slipped 0.25p to 14.75p. A near 1.5 million share trade at 13.5p was recorded in late trading. The company has warned it plans a rights issue to help finance its joint aircraft refuelling services venture at 16 airports in southern China.