Market Report: Sage investors dismiss threat from Microsoft

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The Independent Online

That was the response of a series of City analysts to the long-anticipated launch by the US giant of a product to rival Sage's Peachtree offering, and the comments pushed shares in the Newcastle-based group 2.25p higher to 235p.

Bridgewell Securities was among those playing down the significance of the Microsoft move. It believes the hype surrounding the company's launch is likely to mark the bottom of the recent underperformance by Sage shares. The broker is convinced this development will have no impact on Sage results for the foreseeable future.

Deutsche Bank also played down the impact of Microsoft's innovation on the UK group. It said Sage's push into higher-value speciality products and new services lines provides a form of defence against Microsoft, which is targeting the lower end of the market. As with Bridgewell, Deutsche believes investors should use the recent weakness in Sage shares as a buying opportunity and set a 265p price target on the stock.

Elsewhere, O2 gave up 1.5p to 152.75p as poor results from The Link retail chain, owned jointly by the mobile phone group and Dixons, unnerved the market. Analysts estimate that O2 gets about 10 per cent of its new business wins through the retailer, and fear the UK mobile phone market, which is key to O2's performance, may be heading for a sharp slowdown. Next dropped a further 23p to 1,462p amid growing expectation that its interim results next week will disappoint the City. On Wednesday, Morgan Stanley seemed to suggest Next's figures would almost certainly come in below consensus forecasts.

French Connection was also in retreat, falling 6.75p to 255.75p, as brokers worried that it too would fail to meet expectations when it posts results next week. Investec Securities believes investors should reduce their shareholdings in French Connection in the run-up to the figures, which it fears might be accompanied by a profits warning.

The broker suggests the group's retail and wholesale operations are under pressure. Investec said: "Our discussions with a number of FC wholesale accounts hint that many are now cutting back on their exposure to the company. We believe there is a great risk that the group's UK wholesale sales will therefore suffer a third season of decline."

Fresh takeover rumours surrounded Amvescap, pushing its shares 10p better to 377.5p. The latest dealing-room gossip talked of a possible offer for the asset manager from the US mutual fund, Janus Capital. Sceptics pointed out that Janus is nearly half the size of Amvescap and therefore unlikely to be able to raise the money to buy the group. Last month, CI Financial, a Canadian fund manager, abandoned its bid for Amvecasp.

Hanson fell 16p to 592.5p after disappointing results from its peer Lafarge. FKI soared 7p to 113p after Paul Heiden held a bullish meeting with Credit Suisse First Boston and a series of institutional investors. After the meeting the Swiss broker said: "FKI appears increasingly attractive in our view, and we believe that the company is at inflexion point with regard to its earnings momentum." CSFB predicts the engineer is about to experience a recovery across at its three main divisions.

ITV gave up 3p to 111.5p as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley downgraded their earnings forecasts for the broadcaster. Helphire added 11p to 306p as the group boasted of strong trading at its AGM. Dresdner Kleinwort Wass-erstein slapped a "sell" recommendation on Thus shares, sending them 0.5p lower to 16.25p. The German broker fears that sales at the telecoms group are at risk amid fierce competition across the industry.

Regent Inns gained 3.5p to 95.5p on vague talk of a bid for the pubs group from Punch Taverns. Regent has long been viewed as vulnerable to a takeover, but analysts are sceptical that Punch Taverns wants to acquire the group. They believe Punch, down 11.5p to 808.5p, is more likely to want to buy the private equity-owned Spirit pubs group.

Alphameric ticked 1p higher to 100p on talk the software group is close to winning a £1.5m contract from the sandwich-bar chain Benjy's.

BATM Advanced Communications, the Israeli telecoms-systems supplier, rose 2.5p to 31p after its interim results revealed an earlier-than-expected return to profit. BATM posted $800,000 (£436,106) profits, compared with a loss of $1.9m last time, and saw its management turn bullish about its future. Zvi Marom, the chief executive, expects the group finish the year on a high note.

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