Utilities burn bright in gloom of another grey Friday; MARKET REPORT

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The Independent Online
Utilities made a valiant attempt to counter another grey Friday mood of confusion and uncertainty.

Such is the nervous state of the stock market following US banking chief Alan Greenspan's cautionary comments that a sharp overnight fall in New York sent shares spinning lower.

But the fall merely underlined the fragility of the market. After more than a year of largely ignoring Wall Street's seemingly relentless progress, shares are now tossing and turning at the slightest sign of a transatlantic correction.

With big profits to be taken on both sides of the Atlantic market-makers are nervous that a selling rush could suddenly materialise. And, consequently, they are quick to mark down prices at the merest hint of any selling pressure.

No doubt noting the alleged unlucky implications of Friday the 13th, market-makers could not resist the temptation to follow New York's example when trading started yesterday.

At one time Footsie was down 56.8 points and all the old worries of corrections and crashes were again uppermost in many minds. But, not for the first time, it was all a big mistake. The Dow Jones Average actually moved ahead and in the scramble to acknowledge the feared reckoning had once again been postponed Footsie had cut its decline to 18.3 points to 3,972.4 by the close.

Utilities rose above such mundane influences as feared corrections, helped by the not unexpected Whitehall clearance of the hostile CE Electric of the US bid for Northern Electricity. Northern, which remains opposed to the pounds 665m offer, jumped 39.5p to 642p compared with the CE offer of 650p.

East Midlands Electricity gained 30p to 656.5p on the belief its agreed offer from the US Dominion Resources will also be given a rare Whitehall green light.

The remaining "unattached" electricities also glowed with London, up 28p at 679.5p, Southern 27p to 774.5p and Yorkshire 13.5p to 756p.

Some of the waters were drawn into the speculation of further utility bids. Anglian rose 9p to 556.5p and United Utilities 4p to 575.5p. South West Water improved 12p to 594.5p.

Orange, the mobile phone group, added another 2.5p to 181p as Barclays de Zoete Wedd hung a 240p target price on the shares following its talks with BT, up 3.5p to 390.5p. The telephone giant is, with a Danish group, planning a move into Switzerland.

Commercial Union found itself back in the takeover arena as a trade of 250,000 shares which went through at 652p resurrected takeover speculation. The deal, above the then market price, clearly put the market on edge and in a late flurry the shares jumped 21p to 665p.

A continental strike remains the favoured option with the German Allianz group never far from the reckoning.

More building society rate increases eroded some of the builders with Barratt Developments off 5.5p to 245p.

Taylor Nelson, the market research group, provided the Friday profit- warning hit. The shares fell 8.25p to 42p after the company said profits would not be up to expectations.

Matthew Clark, the cider group removed from the supporting FTSE 250 index, ended 10.5p down at 260p, a new low.

RJB Mining continued to rally from its savage mauling after the BZW downgrading, adding 27p to 425p

Oxford Biomedica's delayed debut was a withering disaster; against an 88p placing the shares opened at 42.5p, closing at 47.5p. Yeoman, a hi- tech group held back to accommodate late applications fared better but even so failed to even hold its 175p placing, ending at 170.5p.

Clubpartners, a golf group, fell 4p to 7.5p after repeating that any of the circling bidders would offer terms below the market price.

Obscure AND International Publishers achieved the day's biggest gain, up 59 per cent to 185p. A Dutch electronic publisher, it arrived on AIM in August at 70p. Oxford University Press is a substantial shareholder, with around 25 per cent. The shares are a narrow market and there appeared to be only one modest trade.

Lanica Trust, with mail order ambitions, was another high flyer, up 40p to 905p. The shares have climbed from 56p since August.

Zotefoams, the chemical group, held at 212.5p as ABN Amro Hoare Govett said the shares were undervalued. Analyst Nicola Kerslake trimmed her profits forecast by 5 per cent to pounds 6.7m because of sterling's strength and higher spending on marketing. Next year's prediction is pounds 8m. The shares were 339p in March.