No news is good news

It is a volatile time for shares across the stock market. Bid speculation and mixed reports from US and UK companies about the state of trading and the market have all led to uncertainty.

But while the shareholders of some companies, most notably Manchester United Football Club, faced dramatic times last week, the construction and building materials sector was at least able to celebrate the unremarkable.

It was the second consecutive week that shares in the sector rose by a small fraction, to 3248. This may not amount to a trend, but it was a sequence that had been noticeable by its absence since the start of 2005, and was very much a case of little news being good news.

There was little movement among the housebuilders, whose shares have seen the biggest volatility in the industry since the start of the year. The best performance came from Bellway, up 1.9% to 794.5p, and the worst performance from Wimpey with a fall of just 0.3% to 387p.

Contractors, too, were in store for a relatively stable week, and have been boosted by a raft of upbeat trading statements and a number of high-value public sector contracts, notably in the waste and water sectors.

But this was not enough to help Costain, which despite contract wins, an upbeat trading statement and a strong set of results in recent weeks, was the week’s worst performer, falling 3.2% to 45p.

There was more activity within the support services sector. Shares in Atkins rose 5.4% to 657 as it maintained its strong position, having regained the respect of the City after troubled times and an impressive turnaround. Despite the fact that last week’s share price was 12% below its January high of 747.5p, it was 23% above its 12-month low of 533p last June.

On the face of it, Jarvis shares had a good week, up 8.3% to 9.75p. This could in part be explained by the fact that it had the unusual good fortune of picking up renewal work on a stretch of the West Coast Main Line after Network Rail suspended Mowlem from the contract. However, Jarvis is more susceptible to share price volatility because, with shares at such a low level, small levels of trading can create big shifts.

The All-Share Index dropped slightly, by less than 1%, to 2434.

Angela Monaghan is business editor