Market Report: Sage Group blossoms on rosy European outlook

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The Independent Online

An upbeat meeting with analysts in Paris lent a bit of ooh la la to Sage shares yesterday. The accounting software company, the only tech share in the FTSE 100, jumped 4p to 207.5p as the City's finest brains reported back from their jolly.

An upbeat meeting with analysts in Paris lent a bit of ooh la la to Sage shares yesterday. The accounting software company, the only tech share in the FTSE 100, jumped 4p to 207.5p as the City's finest brains reported back from their jolly.

The meeting was earlier this week, and no trading update was made, but analysts came away with a rosy view of trading trends and prospects for Sage's Continental European business. The local heads of several European Union countries converged on the French capital for the meeting, and impressed the visitors. Deutsche Bank described them yesterday as "on top of their markets" and committed to growing their businesses. The presentations were "very credible" said one attendee said; they set out "a positive vision", said another.

Continental Europe accounts for one-quarter of Sage's annual sales, and growth picked up there in the second half of last year, easing fears of vicious competition and low demand.

Traders were kept busy with the slew of annual results from FTSE 100 companies yesterday. Activity concentrated in the nine blue-chip stocks with figures out and in some high-profile mid-cap stocks. They included disappointments, notably slow sales at the drug wholesaler Alliance UniChem, down 56p at 720p, Spirent, off 6.5p at 62.25p, where the telecoms services company's network monitoring business is a long way from recovery, and Colt Telecom,1.75p lower at 56p, which warned there is still no improvement in its markets. But mainly they were in line with expectations, for example, Hanson's 8 per cent rise in profits, which left the building materials group's shares just 0.25p adrift at 514.75p, or better than hoped (including Capita, up 8.25p to 369.75p thanks to a 34 per cent dividend rise.

There was also very strong trading in Corus on hopes that recent increases in iron ore prices - more than 70 per cent in some cases, well above expectations - will moderate as further supply deals are signed this year. The steel maker, where iron ore is the most significant raw materials cost, was back up 1.75p to 58p, making it the best blue-chip performer. It signed a new €800m overdraft facility yesterday, cutting its interest bill, while Credit Suisse told its clients there is still some puff in Corus shares, since steel makers might be able to raise prices substantially this year.

With no clear lead from Wall Street during London trading hours, the FTSE 100 drifted further away from the 5,000 mark it fell through on Wednesday. The index closed down 16.4 points at 4,972.1. The high oil price and talk of higher interest rates in the UK provided some of the reasons for retrenchment, but in truth there were just a lot of hedge funds sitting on fat profits from the recent rally who decided to cash in.

The sell-off in Royal & SunAlliance shares was exacerbated by a "sell" recommendation from Citigroup, which reckons the new international accounting rules suggest RSA's earnings per share and net asset value will be lower than realised. Its stock fell 1p to 83.5p.

Amlin shares advanced a further penny after the insurance company's syndicate results on Wednesday were strong. Yesterday, its smaller rival Kiln was 1.75p higher at 88p after strong results of its own. With high premiums and low claims, the insurance industry is still in its sweet spot, and eyes are now on Brit Insurance's full-year results next Tuesday. Numis cleared an overhang with the sale of 17 million shares this week, which means that, if the results are good, there is little to hold the stock back. Brit shares were up tuppence to 84p yesterday.

UK Coal bounced 2.5p to 132p after unions at its Welbeck colliery voted to accept new shift patterns, a decision the company says makes the colliery economically viable after all. It won't now close.

In the junior mining sector, Consolidated Minerals perked up 7.5p to 143.5p, thanks to the rising nickel and manganese prices. And Virotec International, which does environmental clean-ups, was a good market, up 1.25p to 29p. Gossips said the chairman, Brian Sheeran, is flying out to the US today to sign a big deal that will be announced next week.

There was still no word on board changes at ML Laboratories (up 0.25p to 18.75p), where a shareholder uprising is believed to have ousted the biotech's chairman. Both sides are still trying to agree on a strategy for a new management team. Meanwhile, DAT Group proved a volatile share, first up 5.5p, then down 4.5p, and finally closing at 395.5p, off 2p on the day. The telecoms software and services company has tripled in value since it floated in December. There was a rumour yesterday that its house broker, Durlacher, may be close to raising profit forecasts for next year, possibly by more than 250 per cent.

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