Lastminute flotation fails to ignite Footsie

 

The launch of Lastminute.com stole the headlines on a subdued day with investors still looking ahead to next week's British budget and US interest rate decision.

The online booking agent had attracted much interest during the run-up to flotation and was seen as something of a standard bearer for the dot com sector. But demand was so high that private investors were clearly disappointed with their allocation of 35 shares. At close of trading, that had earned them a profit, before dealing costs, of less than £38.

It remains to be seen whether the paltry profits from Lastminute.com cast a pall over the new issues market by discouraging stagging. There is a long queue of companies waiting to float.

With not much of a lead from Wall Street, and with no domestic economic news, the main indices lacked direction. The FTSE 100 index ended 20.2 ahead at 6,487.1, having at one point hit 6,539.7.

But most of the other indices were down on the day. The FTSE 250 shed 0.8 to 6,713.1, the SmallCap 16 to 3,506.2 and the Techmark 100 index of leading technology stocks fell 20.134 to 5,500.48.

Once again, movements in the leading index took second place to sectoral shifts. Old economy stocks picked up some ground, with BAT, Invensys, Billiton and BAE Systems among the leading stocks in the FTSE 100.

Equity strategists at Charterhouse Securities, said looking at the market average was of limited value at the moment as it was the sum of two widely divergent parts. The main question in investors' minds remains: when do they start buying these cheap stocks they see littered around?

There was some good news for the old economy yesterday as sterling lost ground against both the yen and the dollar. Sterling has lost some of its strength recently as investors have reduced their expectations for the peak in British interest rates.

Those hoping that Britain may be close to, or at, the rates peak will be watching closely the average earnings numbers released today; the Bank of England has been concerned in the past about wage pressures.

But next week is likely to be much more significant in market terms.

Although investors are not expecting any major shift in fiscal policy from Gordon Brown's budget, they will be interested in specific items, particularly the possibility of the abolition of stamp duty on share trading.

And the US Federal Reserve's interest rate decision will be the main factor for global markets. A quarter point increase is widely expected, but some fear a half point rise. All will be watching for indications of whether the Fed plans to tighten policy several more times this year.

Volume was 1.71 billion shares by the 6 p.m. count with many traders off at the first day of the Cheltenham racing festival. Vodafone was again the most active individual stock.