A sweetener for `ugly ducking' Tate in Easter parade

MARKET REPORT
Is a little sweetness about to enter what has been an extremely sour existence for Tate & Lyle, the sugar group?

The shares are bumping along uncomfortably near their year's low. Profits are under pressure and there is talk American sweetener giant, Archer Daniels Midland, may be forced to dump its 6.8 per cent shareholding.

The shares fell 2p to 434p, seemingly ignoring fulsome praise from US investment house, Lehman Brothers. In the past year they have nudged 500p. Lehman's Richard Newboult admits Tate was "once an ugly duckling". But he believes the group is on the brink of a dramatic recovery which could make the shares the best performers in the food sector over the next several years. And he sees the price at 580p.

Interim results, due in May, will be poor. But the investment house is convinced from then onwards the Tate performance will improve.

For the current year a profit fall from pounds 276.3m to pounds 253m, rather more than Tate has indicated, is forecast by Lehman. The following year Mr Newboult is looking for pounds 294.8m. Still, even if his estimate is achieved Tate will still be lagging its peak performance, the pounds 311.1m reached in 1995.

The ADM stake is, it appears, under threat from the activities of the US Justices Department. It would seem there is a suggestion ADM should severe its Tate stake because of allegations of price-fixing. Another unsettling influence stems from Lonrho; there is talk Tate could buy the international trading group's sugar operations.

The rest of the stock market continued to enjoy its own Easter parade with thoughts of higher interest rates and the election shenanigans gently erased from the equation. Footsie ended 11.4 points higher at 4,312.9. In early trading it had been 29.9 to the good. The index has recovered approaching half of the decline suffered in the first six days of the election campaign.

As the financial year draws to its close the market is preoccupied with bed and break fast deals and institutional window dressing. Turnover has been high in recent weeks with probably half of the activity due to tax- efficient deals.

ScottishPower was the best performing blue chip, allegedly because the market was short of stock. But a challenge to BT in Scotland could have been an influence, lifting the shares 17.5p to 353.5p.

P&O had an unhappy time, sinking 22p to 618.5p as the shipping group steamed into Florida tax squalls. At one time the shares were off 37p.

Marks & Spencer added 6p to 487.5p as stories gathered strength that it is on the verge of selling its US Brookes Brothers retail operation and handing on the proceeds to shareholders in the shape of a special dividend.

Although it is widely suspected Marks would dearly love to get rid of Brookes finance director Jeff Denton denied any plans for a special payment.

Glaxo Wellcome rose a further 15p to 1,116.5p on ABN Amro Hoare Govett support and Energy Group continued to enjoy Goldman Sachs backing with 19.5p gain to 509p.

Prudential Corporation's swoop on Scottish Amicable lifted the shares 19.5p higher to 567p but BAT Industries, pushed higher this week by bullish analyst comment, fell 15p to 518.5p as Hoare Govett and NatWest Securities made cautious noises.

Simon Engineering gained another 1.5p to 45p. It denied it was involved in takeover talks although it is meeting with aggressive Rutland Trust about its storage and port operations. Rutland shaded 0.75p to 59.75p.

Scotia, hit when its diabetic drug Tarabetic failed to win regulatory approval, rose 23.5p to 457.5p as Lehman put a value of 603p on the shares. Drew Scientific ended 8.5p higher at 87.5p although a rumoured bullish review from Yamaichi, the Japanese securities house which has established a strong position in drug research, failed to appear. Shield Diagnostic rose a further 27.5p to 715p.

Newcomer World Telecom, placed at 150p, reached 170p. Thomas Jourdan, where David Abell takeover hopes hover, rose 6p to 60.5p.

Policy Portfolio, which trades in insurance policies, gained 24.5p to 120p as the company revealed a "tentative approach" of 130p for the Rubin family's controlling stake.

Asda, the property group not the supermarketeer, fell 27p to 142p on the signalled departure of managing director Tony Roscoe. Dunton, following its Remote Metering Systems acquisition, gained 17p to 172.5p. Lavendon, making power platforms, rose 14p to 262.5p following a round of meetings.

Taking Stock

Building a substantial share of a niche market has turned out to be a sound policy for Hicking Pentecost. Its recent deal, the pounds 33m acquisition of Belding Thread, a US maker of industrial thread from synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester, is the latest in a series of moves which have made it a power in the little followed world of industrial threads and helped lift the shares from 94p to 356.5p over the past five years.

Credit Lyonnais Laing is keen on the shares, looking for profits of pounds 7.75m for the year ending next week and pounds 11.7m for the following year.

Bestodds, the latest Ofex addition, has climbed 1,300p in two days from its 3,000p issue price. The company offers a paging service for horse racing punters.

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