US worries put Footsie in retreat

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL Westminster Bank did its best but the stock market was, once again, in ragged retreat. New York dominated proceedings, and with the Clinton saga continuing to undermine Wall Street, Footsie lost a further 73.6 points to 5,736.1.

Better-than-expected NatWest profits lifted the shares 107p to 1,146p. The 10.3 per cent gain put them comfortably at the top of the blue-chip leader board. In second place was the engineer GKN, enjoying a 2.4 per cent advance to 771p, ahead of what should be robust interim figures.

American waves hit many blue chips. Pearson, the media group, fell 65p to 1,135p as Cavenove and Goldman Sachs completed the placing of shares at 1,135p, raising pounds 328m to help fund the takeover of US publisher Simon & Schuster. BT slumped 33p to 841p as doubts set in about growth prospects following the deal with AT&T, with some suggesting BT was dramatically overvalued.

Amvescap, the investment group with a heavy US exposure, was another transatlantic casualty, losing 56p to 646p.

Many of the recent high-flyers were forced earthwards. For example, Colt Telecom lost 110p to 2,780p (against a 3,327.5p high) and Arm, the chip maker, gave up 40p to 1,162.5p.

Besides American influences, the stock market had to contend with continuing anxiety over the Far East and even that old bugbear, interest rates. It would be astonishing if the Monetary Policy Committee lifted rates this week. But the market is not at ease with the MPC and cannot completely banish suspicions that yet another nasty surprise lurks.

Second-line chemicals provided the only significant excitement. The signalled Laporte bid for Inspec sent the shares soaring 89.5p to 332.5p. Heavy turnover - Seaq put volume at 51.3 million - suggesting Laporte, or a possible counter-bidder, was in the market. CSFB bid up to 340p a share, the price Laporte is expected to offer.

Other chemicals happily responded to the action. The sector has been deep in the dumps, with profits under pressure from fierce competition, exacerbated by the strong pound.

Elementis rose 13p to 143p; Yule Catto 23p to 321.5p and BTP 20p to 475p Albright & Wilson, which has attracted takeover rumours in the past few days, put on a further 5p to 138.5p.

Even a profits slump and cautious comments from Croda International did not weigh too heavily, with the shares up 25p to 332.5p.

Rolls-Royce announced more aero-engine orders but such was the market mood the shares promptly nose-dived - down 18p at 220p. Deals off the order book suggested the fall was nearer 11p.

BG (British Gas) was little changed at 370.5p. At one time the shares were 7.75p higher. Salomon Smith Barney and Sutherlands increased their target price to 418p from around 385p.

RJB Mining lost 11p to 106.5p on continuing worries about the coal industry, and Rackwood Mining, said to be the bidder for Waverley Mining, fell 2p to 20.5p as hard-pressed Waverley strengthened 0.75p to 13.5p.

Amusement machine group Kunick provided the day's profit warning, tumbling 4.75p to 2875p. Rank, on disappointing figures, lost 19p to 309p.

House of Fraser, the department stores chain, shaded to 142.5p after SG Securities downgraded its profits estimate from pounds 35m to pounds 32.5m.

Flextech, the broadcaster, edged ahead 5.5p to 480.5p. Henderson Crosthwaite is keen. It expects strong first-half growth and is looking for the shares to go to 650p.

Marston Thompson & Evershed, the Burton-on-Trent-based brewer of Pedigree bitter, held at 272.5p. Silchester International Investors, a US fund management group, has acquired a taste for the shares and in nine months it has built a 10.13 per cent stake.

The regional brewer has under-performed. Its shares have fallen sharply from 360p in the spring. The company, with its solid profits record, seems an out of the way choice for a US investment group.

Cortecs, the drugs group, was ruffled by a big trade below the then market price, falling 10p to 52.5p at one time. The shares ended 2p off at 60.5p. Shield Diagnostic firmed a further 30p to 605p. Its executive directors are in the US and there are hopes it will clinch a licensing deal shortly.

TLG, the lighting group, brightened 2p to 137.5p. It has disclosed bid talks which seems to have encouraged Wassall, aiming to be an aggressive investment group, to increase its interest. It picked up a further 2.5 million shares and now has 11.39 per cent.

Many observers believe Wassall an unlikely bidder and its buying spree would suggest it hopes to cash in if the bidder does appear.

BKG Resources, the old Bakyrchik Gold, was suspended at 4.5p. It is buying Conpor, which converts natural gas to liquid petroleum products, in exchange for shares. The deal represents a reverse takeover. Shares of the Russian gold miner nearly hit 600p two years ago.



GILTS INDEX: 105.79 +0.04