Lazy market takes an Easter breather

THE Hang Seng Index dipped 59.13 points in lazy trading yesterday, with only a strong profits announcement from Peregrine Investments and two new issues keeping trading moving.

The index has now fallen more than 120 points in two days, with yesterday's close the lowest since March 24.

Peregrine announced a profit boost of 101 per cent and a bonus issue and capital consolidation, which lifted turnover to $94.9 million, the day's third highest. The shares rose 12.5 cents or 5.9 per cent to $2.25.

The Hang Seng Index slid gently during the morning session, reaching a low of 6,250.17 around 11.30 am, but made a mild recovery before lunch. The afternoon was flat.

''There was a lack of enthusiasm from investors and certainly a lack of turnover,'' said Mr James Osborn, director at Baring Securities.

''We had no real news to digest and the market has had a good run, so the whole market was just taking a breather for Easter.'' Turnover dwindled to $2.23 billion, the lowest since February 12 and $378 million down from Tuesday's corrected figure.

There was mild selling of Hang Seng Bank, which had the day's biggest turnover of $193.8 million and fell $1 to $54.50.

Jardine group companies enjoyed some mild support. Jardine Matheson rose 25 cents to $45.75, while Jardine Strategic was up 10 cents to $21.40.

The only other index stock to climb was Hongkong and China Gas, which gained 20 cents to $16.70.

Property stocks were notably weaker than the rest of the index, with the sector index falling 163.48 or 1.7 per cent to 9,490.17.

Cheung Kong fell 10 cents to $22.10, while Great Eagle fell 10 cents or 3.1 per cent to $3.175.

Both textile stocks in the index were weak. Lai Sun Garment fell five cents or 1.9 per cent to $2.575, and Winsor Industrial fell 40 cents or 3.1 per cent to $12.30.

An exchange notice said that because of a rights issue whose value was not yet known, the opening price of Dairy Farm could not be calculated.

''Members will have to exercise their own judgement in arriving at an appropriate opening price, taking into account all the information regarding this dividend payment and rights issue,'' the exchange said. The shares closed at $10.90.

Warrant trade was particularly quiet, with the biggest-traded warrant, the BZW 1994 HSBC Holdings warrant, recording just $13.5 million of action.

Futures brightened in low trade. The April index contract rose two to 6,275, narrowing the discount with the cash index to seven. Total trade in futures was 4,072 contracts, 281 up on Tuesday's corrected figure.

Futures contracts missed out on the morning fall experienced by equities, and moved up sharply in the late afternoon.

Three companies returned to trade after being suspended because of an ongoing investigation. Capital Asia fell 2.5 cents to $2.80, Allied Group fell three cents to 65 cents and Allied Properties was unchanged at $7.25.

Speculative interest in Santai cooled, the shares falling 35 cents or 12.1 per cent to $2.525, which was easily the day's biggest fall.

Mandarin Dragon was the most-chased smaller company, thanks to the rumours of a mainland stake. The shares closed at $5.20, a rise of 42.5 cents or 8.9 per cent, on trade of $51.1 million, one of the day's 10 highest.

Conic Investment had the day's biggest rise, up 27 cents or 13.6 per cent to $2.25. The company posted a notice saying it knew of no reason for the rise.

Li & Fung continued to rise thanks to favourable press comment and some institutional interest. The shares rose 6.4 per cent to $3.325, a lift of 20 cents in thin trade.

Chesterfield reported that Fairyland, a company associated with controlling shareholder MKI, had sold shares representing 2.34 per cent of the company's capital.

Star Entertainment, which announced annual profits up 51.6 per cent, rose one cent to 83 cents.

Kwong Sang Hong, a Peregrine associate which announced annual profits up 93.7 per cent, rose 10 cents or 4.4 per cent to $2.375.