Market Report: Rumours of Regus fund-raising plan excite City

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Regus was the talk of the City yesterday. Dealing rooms across the Square Mile were alight with rumours that the office space group is putting the finishing touches to a major fund-raising that will give it the firepower to launch a bid for its US rival HQ Global Workplaces. Market professionals reckon any move by Regus, down 2.5p to 65.75p, to raise extra cash is likely to see it issue new equity at about the 50p level.

Regus was the talk of the City yesterday. Dealing rooms across the Square Mile were alight with rumours that the office space group is putting the finishing touches to a major fund-raising that will give it the firepower to launch a bid for its US rival HQ Global Workplaces. Market professionals reckon any move by Regus, down 2.5p to 65.75p, to raise extra cash is likely to see it issue new equity at about the 50p level.

There has been increasing speculation that Regus is running the slide rule over HQ Global. In fact, the companies know each other well. Back in 2001, Regus launched a $650m all-share bid for the Dallas-based company. However, talks failed to lead to a deal. Since then, the duo have been through some very hard times. HQ Global was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002 and so was Regus's US division, as the economic downturn took a heavy toll on thecompanies' finances.

Regus was eventually forced to sell a chunk of its UK business to the private equity firm Alchemy Partners in an attempt to stay afloat, and this was soon followed by a £55m rescue rights issue. Since then, things have been on the up at the company and this is reflected in the performance of its shares. The stock has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the blue-chip index had a bad day as investors were spooked by yet another surge in the price of oil. Crude now stands at a new 13-year high, above $40 a barrel, and there are concerns it will rise further as Opec struggles to keep up with strong demand. The FTSE 100 index closed 41.8 points lower at 4,412.9.

Cable & Wireless managed to buck the negative trend, rising 2p to 117.75p, thanks to an upbeat note from JP Morgan. According to the US broker, full-year results from the telecoms group, due on 2 June, will demonstrate that C&W's management have made good progress in turning around the UK business.

Despite the strength in the crude price, Shell dropped 1.75p to 398p and BP retreated 5p to 485.5p. JP Morgan believes that investors have already factored the strong outlook for oil prices into sector valuations and argued that as the global economy continues with its recovery, more cyclical sectors are likely to outperform. The broker therefore downgraded its rating on the European oil sector to from "overweight" to "neutral".

Investec Securities urged its clients to buy into mmO2, off 1.5p to 93.5p, ahead of next week's full-year results from the mobile phone operator. "Trading is strong in the UK and Germany and we expect investors to soon start getting excited about the company's ability to pay a high dividend", the broker said. Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein was also heard making positive sounds about mmO2. Although a bid for the company is looking increasingly unlikely, Dresdner argues that investors will should begin to focus on what made the company such an attractive target for KPN in the first place, namely its strong operating performance.

Trackers funds moved into Cookson, up 0.75p higher to 42p, Inchape, up 41p to 1,541p, London Stock Exchange, 12.25p better at 367.6p, and Meggitt, 4p stronger at 250p, as all four stocks were added to Morgan Stanley Capital International's UK index. Household furniture retailers were a favourite among gossips. MFI added 2.25p to 156p on whispers that the group's AGM statement, due on 20 May, would be a bullish affair. There was even talk of corporate action at the group. Some suggested MFI is mulling the demerger of its successful Howden unit, while others were of the view that the group's management would like to take the company private.

Something of a buzz also surrounded Homestyle, off 1.5p to 91p. The beds and soft furnishings retailer recently sold-off its Rosebys textiles unit for £50m and said it would use the cash to reduce its debt burden. Once the deal is complete, Homestyle will have its borrowings under control and analysts suggested the group could be vulnerable to a bid, given its lowly valuation.

API ticked 1.5p higher to 62p on whispers that corporate action is on the way at the packaging specialist. Talk of a bid for the group is doing the rounds, possibly led by its management. Analysts said a bid cannot be ruled out and noted that the group's shares, currently near all-time lows, trade at a massive discount to its net asset value.

Investors have gradually abandoned the company after a string of profits warnings. The most recent of these, back in March, was prompted by the particularly poor performance from API's metallised paper division.

Sanctuary Group retreated 0.75p to 49p as brokers struggled to clear a large seller from the market. Word has it that one institution is trying to offload a large chunk of its shareholding. CodaSciSys gave up 2.5p to 335p as John Haynes, an executive director, sold 30,000 shares at 332p.

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