Market Report: MFI slumps as bid hopes fall apart at the seams

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That at least was the view expressed forceably, and argued forensically, by one of the retail sector's investment gurus yesterday - and it seemed to get through to MFI's many bulls. The stock was one of the worst performers in an otherwise surging mid-cap market, falling 1.75p to 117.25p.

Richard Ratner, the veteran retail analyst at Seymour Pierce known to most people as Ratty, says a bid cannot be justified at the current share price. The group's debts and pension fund deficit lops £300m from the value of the fast-growing and profitable joinery chain, Howden, which alone might be worth £1bn. And Kingfisher, once touted as a buyer for Howden, is having too many internal difficulties to be the lynchpin of a break-up bid now. Meanwhile, with losses growing and trading deteriorating at the core retail chain, it is generous to value that business at nothing.

And Ratty cautions that a break-up bid might not be practical any way, with the pension fund trustees holding a potential veto and difficulties in splitting the manufacturing business.

Kingfisher continued to slide, down 1.5p to 230p, as did other consumer-focused stocks, including Next, down 11p to 1,426p. None of which stopped the market from hitting a fresh four-year high, with the FTSE 100 up 21.8 to 5,429.7. That rise came despite a steep fall in early trading on Wall Street, where investors were spooked by the spike in the oil price that was triggered by a hurricane threat in Florida. The UK stock market's two largest companies, though, are oil producers, and they performed strongly in the anticipation of bumper profits to come. BP was up 11.5p to 665p and Royal Dutch Shell was 21p better at 1,916p. BG Group, the oil and gas production arm of the privatised British Gas and often touted as a takeover candidate, topped the FTSE 100 performance league, up 16.25p to 539p.

Ryanair shares were unable to shrug off the implication of rising fuel costs despite comments from its chief financial officer, Howard Millar, who told a transport sector conference that average fares in the three months to September were flat on a year ago - marginally better than the City had been expecting. Ryanair shares fell 5 cents to €6.81. Its rivals easyJet and British Airways were down 0.75p to 293p and 5.25p to 291p, respectively.

Cairn Energy, which was back in the FTSE 100 yesterday, was up 34p to 1,914p before results tomorrow that will give more details of its production plans for its massive oilfield in Rajasthan in north-east India. And it was Day 1 in the FTSE 100 for PartyGaming, whose shares gained 1.5p to 110.5p. One institutional investor in Hays, the recruitment firm which lost its FTSE 100 place, sold £65m of its holding at 121p per share. The stock closed 0.75p lower at 124.25p. And the media group Emap, the other FTSE 100 reject, dipped 2.5p to 822p.

BTG, the biotech investment company, continued the rally that was sparked by news on Friday that one of its inventions - a drug called Campath - can significantly help multiple sclerosis sufferers. But there are some little devils in the detail. Campath also showed a serious side-effect, fatal bleeding, in some patients. Biotech analysts think it is less likely to become a big treatment for MS as a result, and will take longer to get to market - cutting the likely value of Campath royalties to the UK company. BTG shares peaked at 231.5p and ended the day up 6.25p at 216.25p.

Numis flipped its view of Countrywide, the estate agent chain, cancelling its "sell" advice and moving to an "add" rating. Why? The company's property surveying business will get more work when the Government introduces home information packs which force sellers to have a survey done. Numis sparked a lot of interest: Countrywide leapt 26p to 400p.

Management buyout rumours swirled round Flying Brands, steady at 187.5p.

There was strong interest in the quoted football clubs after weekend speculation of a bid for Aston Villa from a consortium of "predatory Russians", who are willing to pay £66m for the club - up to 580p per share. Villa said the reports were "inaccurate" and "unfounded" but, er, the club has actually received an approach. The stock closed up 101p at 472.5p. Meanwhile, Newcastle United was up 2.25p to 50.75p after its most recent investment, Michael Owen, made his first goal-scoring contribution. And Millwall shares came off the bottom after the club managed to achieve the same in the Championship. They rose 0.1p from the record low they reached last week, up to 0.6p.

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