Almost like old times as Hanson tops blue-chip pile

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
It was almost like old times - Hanson top of the blue chips pile. What is left of the once feared empire rose 4.25p to 85.75p, highest since October. US buying, including a programme trade, was the spur for the advance. Many American deals were completed at the equivalent of 88p.

Last year Hanson's much vaunted demerger left Millennium Chemicals and Imperial Tobacco as stand-alone companies. Energy Group, embracing Eastern Electricity, is due to go its own separate way in the next month or so.

The rump of the once sprawling conglomerate, emblazoned as New Hanson, is already flexing its muscles and talking about US acquisitions.

Andrew Dougal, chief executive, has said it is seeking US takeovers, an ambition which could inspire the US interest. A large acquisition is not contemplated but Hanson seems to be scouting for bolt-on deals.

Hanson's revival coincided with the stock market almost, but not quite, throwing off its New Year hangover. With New York seemingly intent on continuing its overnight rally Footsie recovered more than half Thursday's collapse with a 32.1-points gain to 4,089.5. But trading remained thin with the ranks of City operatives still far from complete.

Stores made headway, supported by the latest John Lewis Partnership statement. The group reported total sales up 23.5 per cent last week although there was a 2.5 per cent fall in the previous week. WH Smith, said to be helped by a badly executed buy order, rose 25p to 456.5p and Storehouse added 8.5p to 265p. JLP's success with its Waitrose supermarkets lifted the superstore shares a few coppers.

House of Fraser was firm at 151.5p. Franklyn, a US investment group, and its affiliates have built a 9 per cent shareholding. Turnover topped, according to Seaq, 1 million shares with a series of market-maker trades going through at 152p intriguing observers.

The cold weather failed to provide much inspiration for oil shares but Kwik-Fit, the tyres and exhausts group, jumped 15.5p to 233p, anticipating the impact of the icy conditions on car parts.

Railtrack was back on the buy track riding ahead 15p to 394.5p and offering a good head of steam for GB Railways, due to arrive on the market on Monday. Placed at 100p the shares are expected to race ahead to around 180p.

GB has the franchise to operate Anglia Railways and is seeking other routes. The founders will have 23.14 per cent after the flotation and a raft of options.

The latest football club to arrive, West Bromwich Albion took AIM via an introduction; opening price was pounds 280.

West Brom play Chelsea today in the FA Cup. Chelsea Village, running the Stamford Bridge club, gained 4p to 121.5p. Executors of the late Matthew Harding, the former vice-chairman, exercised an option to buy 7.5 million shares at 60p, taking the Harding stake to 27 per cent.

Glaxo Wellcome ignored doubts, expressed in this week's Lancet medical journal, about its Lamivudine drug used in liver transplants. The shares rose 7p to 933.5p. Biocompatibles International romped ahead another 40p to 905p; ML Laboratories continued its hesitant revival with a 19p advance to 229.5p.

Granada added 12p to 858p after completing the sale of the Hotel George V in Paris and EMI, the hot takeover stock of 1997, produced another high note performance, up 23.5p to 1,402.5p.

National Westminster Bank was 11.5p higher at 696.5p after Credit Lyonnais Laing described the shares as the cheapest in the sector and a buy up to 900p.

Rolls-Royce reputed to be SBC Warburg's share for the year, rose 8.5p to 259p and TI Group, supported by ABN Amro Hoare Govett, put on 15p at 587.5p.

Among exploration shares JKX Oil & Gas, with interests in the former Soviet Union, fell 6p to 104p. The shares were 190p in the spring. Scott Pickford kept the oil take over pot boiling with news of a second potential bidder. The shares gained 6.5p to 51p.

Anite, the old Cray Electronics, managed a modest surge, gaining 5p to 41.5p as some banked on this being its recovery year. Highams Systems, supplying IT products and business services to the financial services industry, jumped 43.5p to 175p. The shares were floated last month at 72p.

Hambro Countrywide, continued to push ahead, up 2p at 101.5p, on the growing optimism for the housing market and SDX Business Systems gained 12p to 200.5p.

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