Acorn shares jump on confirmation of talks

SHARES in Acorn, the computer maker, jumped 19p to 146p yesterday as Sam Wauchope, the managing director, confirmed talks with large Japanese electronics companies. Yesterday's rise means that Acorn's shares have doubled in value since last Thursday.

If successful, the negotiations could lead to Matsushita, the Japanese electronics company that trades as National Panasonic, or a rival, taking a stake in ARM, a 46 per cent-owned subsidiary. ARM makes microprocessors, the electronic chips that drive computers, using a low-cost, powerful technology called Risc.

Industry experts think these cheap but effective chips pose a threat to existing microprocessors made by companies like Intel of the US.

Commenting on rumours that Matsushita was poised to take a 15 per cent stake, Mr Wauchope said: 'I am not really at liberty to discuss this. We are talking with several companies.

'Some are interested in using our chips, some in getting licences to make them, and some in taking a stake.' He declined to say whether a deal was imminent.

News of Japanese interest in ARM is the latest in a string of announcements that have boosted Acorn's tightly held shares from 6p a year ago. The shares are 79 per cent-owned by Olivetti, the loss-making Italian computer group.

They have benefited from speculation that IBM is planning to base new products on ARM's Risc chip technology. Apple, which also owns a 46 per cent stake in ARM, is using the chips in a new generation of hand-held computers. And 3DO, an American company that is developing a games machine to rival Nintendo and Sega, will be using the microprocessors.

James Warhurst, an analyst at Henry Cooke Lumsden, the stockbrokers, warned that many of the applications for Acorn's Risc chips are still unproven. 'Acorn doesn't have control of ARM and its traditional market for educational computers is under threat from competitors. Chips are a risky, commodity business with low margins'.

Other analysts agreed that the share price was being driven by speculators. One said: 'A lot of second-liners have moved really well, despite the fact that many of these small companies are impossible to value.'

Tadpole Technology, which also boasts a development agreement with IBM for its high-powered engineering computers, came to the market in December at 65p. The shares are currently trading at 324p, or 50 times this year's expected earnings.

(Graph omitted)

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