A profusion of Southerns perplexes the punters

MARKET REPORT

The rush for Southern Water, which sent the shares surging to a new peak, could have been a case of mistaken identity, some of the more adventurous stock market players are ruefully admitting.

Perhaps, they pondered, the action should have been concentrated on another utility - Southern Electric. As if take-over bets were being hedged Southern Water took a bath, off 16p at 670p, while Southern Electric gained 21p to 778p.

With the similarity of utilities often creating confusion even among experienced observers the added danger of getting the two Southern companies mixed up, particularly when bid rumours are flowing, is obvious.

On another typical August session, with trading wilting in the sunshine, power shares generated one of the firmer displays with many coming round to the view that the rush of takeover action has only been deferred by the Whitehall delay over the South Western Electricity bid from the third Southern in the industry, the US group Southern Electric International.

At first the delay was seen as signalling unexpected problems for the US predator and, by implication, for Hanson's bid for Eastern and Scottish Power's offer for Manweb. Scottish displayed its determination to press ahead, lifting its Manweb stake to 14.38 per cent, buying 2.1 million shares.

The generators, which have attracted a round of bullish reviews from analysts, were again in bright form with National Power up 6p to 504p and PowerGen 4p to 557p. Such has been the strength of the generators that, perhaps inevitably, some are wondering whether bidders hover.

The FT-SE 100 index enjoyed a late rally, helped along by a firm New York opening and a forecast from Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull that Footsie could hit 4,100 by the end of next year.

The investment house's strategists, Ian Harnett and Corey Miller, are particularly keen on the bombed-out building sector. They see a strong rally once the Government moves to drag the housing market out of the doldrums.

One building share, Wickes, rose 3p to 130p on revived rumours it could attract a bid from Home Depot, the US do-it-yourself group.

Computer shares were again in the money with MAID continuing its remarkable performance following the link with Microsoft. The shares jumped another 60p to 228p (after 244p) with Seaq printing turnover at almost 4 million. In two days the shares have soared 146p.

Others strove to follow the MAID example. Acorn Computer added 6p to 101p as a hovering line of a million shares was cleared and Sage, an accountancy software group, rose 72p to 1,100p. The shares have risen 67 per cent this year.

Cedardata, also involved in accountancy software, added 2p to 140p, a peak. Coda, another in the same business, jumped 21p to 164p as Rodney Potts, chairman, nudged his stake up to 23.3 per cent. Quality Software advanced 25p to 590p. But Tadpole Technology fell 9p to 72p in belated response to its forecast that losses will be at least pounds 9.3m this year.

Filtronic, a maker of mobile telephone parts, made further headway, up 31p to 385p, and Vodafone added 9.5p to 256.5p on US interest.

Farnell Electronics edged ahead 4p to 668p on rumoured analyst meetings.

GKN, the engineer group, was the outstanding blue chip, surging 51p to 783p following its results and a positive analysts' meeting which blotted out disappointment over a stingy dividend increase.

Christie International, the fine art auctioneer, gained 6p to 217p following the stake-building by Joseph Lewis, a Bahamas-based investor. His Abel investment arm has 20.8 million shares, 12.7 per cent.

Mr Lewis's intentions towards the auctioneer are not known. There have not, it is believed, been any talks between the group's powerful shareholder, who used to run a London leisure business, and Christie.

Airtours continued to feel the impact of the packaged holidays battle, diving 13p to 351p. The shares have fallen from 449p this year.

BAT Industries lost 9p to 512p as President Clinton signalled tougher cigarette and tobacco controls and put the industry under the jurisdiction of the Federal Drug Agency. Zeneca, with help from Goldman Sachs, was on the march again, up 11p to 1,114p, a three-day gain of 25p.

The bid for Copymore, up 38p to 208p, directed attention to Eurocopy, 6p firmer at 82p. Berkeley Business, which failed to capture Southern Business earlier this year, is said to be interested.

Six Hundred, the machine tool and mechanical handling group, gained 8.5p to 124.5p.

TAKING STOCK

oPentland, the Speedo and Kickers sportswear group, jogged ahead 6p to 143p, a new high for the year. It is rumoured to be near clinching an earnings-enhancing deal involving a sportswear company. The talks stalled a few weeks ago but are back on track. The group, famed for its highly profitable investment in Reebok, achieved profits of pounds 38.1m last year.

oAt last it looks as though the long-suspected revamping exercise is under way at Farringford, which has one hotel to its name. The shares jumped 2p to 8p with talk of Trevor Hemmings, who runs Scottish & Newcastle's leisure division, masterminding a deal. He is a significant Farringford shareholder through his family investment trust, Northern Trust Co. Farringford was once seen as a vehicle for holiday camp tycoon Sir Fred Pontin.

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