A quiet day's trading follows slow beginning in New York


Irish shares ended marginally higher yesterday but a sluggish start on Wall Street and an absence of domestic corporate news meant trading was relatively subdued. Dealers said activity was mostly concentrated in the leading stocks and the two main banking shares again proved the main drivers of the market which closed 7.24 points or 0.19 per cent higher at 3,813.49.

"Financial stocks really led the way. Second-line shares haven't been doing a lot," one equity trader said.

The financial index again outperformed the general one, gaining 0.53 per cent against a loss of 0.02 per cent for non-financial shares.

AIB gained 8.5p to 616p and Bank of Ireland rose as high as 930 before closing unchanged at 925p. Irish Life added 1p to 353p while Irish Permanent rose 2p to 656p.

In the industrial sector, building materials group CRH came under some pressure and lost 5p to 790p while dealers also reported some interest to sell Smurfit. The stock finished the day 1p higher at 199p having earlier touched 202p. Waterford Wedgwood edged up by 1p to 83p but dealers said there was good volume in the stock.

Food group Greencore attracted interest ahead of release of annual results tomorrow but closed unchanged at 305p. Analysts say the results are likely to be impacted by a range of negative factors including the strike in the sugar division, the boycott by beet growers and bad weather conditions in the second half. Forecasts range from £47.7 million to £48.3 million.

Investors will be keeping a close eye on today's budget to see if the Minister for Finance delivers the expected cuts in income taxes while the equity market will be keeping a particularly close eye on developments in corporation tax with most analysts expecting a substantial cut.

Meanwhile, Irish government bonds rose on the back of a growing perception that yield convergence with Germany was just around the corner.

The 6.5 per cent benchmark bond due 2001 gained 12p to 104.30 to yield 5.24 per cent.

Negative factors for the bond market, such as the strength of the Irish economy, high credit growth and the likelihood that fiscal policy would be loosened in the budget, were largely ignored.