Market Report: Standard claws its way to top of leaderboard

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The Independent Online

Following a month that has brought the insurers firmly into focus for one reason or another, it was Standard Life's turn to power to the top of the leaderboard yesterday. The UK group was up after chat in the market that it was the latest suitor circling Friends Provident. The gossips were saying that anyone with previous interest in Friends would be currently running the slide rule over a bid, but most it would be at an early stage. Standard closed up 3.43 per cent at 316.25p, as it continues to claw back the losses from the market slump at the end of last month, which saw it drop to 290.25p.

Shares in International Power were also crackling, after the company secured Trinergy for £588m, a deal that sends it into the top 10 of global windpower suppliers. Investors shrugged off broker misgivings over the price, and the stock closed up 9.5p at 435.5p.

ICI's long-running takeover saga took a huge leap forward after Akzo Nobel upped its offer. The UK conglomerate, which owns the Dulux brand, opened its books after Akzo lodged a bid worth 670p-per share. After jumping 14p in early trading, the shares softened to close 3p up at 634.5p.

Heavyweight financial companies with exposure to the US took a hit, after Friday's sell off on Wall Street. Invesco, which closed down 3.15 per cent at 585p, and Man Group, down 3.5 per cent at 524p, both served to drag down the index.

As credit worries continued across the Atlantic, the FTSE 100 zig zagged throughout the day, closed down 35.2 points to 6189.1.

Investors were finally getting 'em in at Mitchells & Butlers, after a poor week for the pub chain. On Friday, it announced its joint venture with property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz had collapsed because of the parlous state of the debt market. It was up the leaderboard yesterday with early gains of 21p after backing from brokers ABN Amro and Panmure Gordon. The latter upgraded the stock from "sell" to "hold" after the weakness that saw shares fall 23 per cent in three weeks. Other news doing the rounds yesterday was that Tchenguiz had upped his stake in the company from 16 per cent to 20 per cent. The stock closed up 6.5p at 698p.

It was not a good day for the rest of the sector. Pub owners have endured their fair share of problems this year, including the smoking ban, poor summer weather keeping punters away and property damage from the floods. The latest blight, according to one analyst, was the re-emergence of foot and mouth disease.

Kate Pettem of Bridgwell Securities, said the sector was hit hard in 2001 by the last outbreak, and yesterday's news "may well upset the already nervous pub stocks". First time round it hurt rural pubs, after the widespread closure of footpaths and waterways. Old English Inns, now part of Greene King, issued a profit warning as a consequence of the disease.

A longer-term effect in the culling of livestock was to drive up the prices of meat which hit the prices on the menus. Marston's finished down 17.25p at 342p, while Greene King was down 17p to 925p.

Elsewhere on the mid tier, Morgan Sindall rose strongly off the back of bullish results. Investors piled into the construction group after its first half hit the upper end of estimates, with pre-tax profits up 18 per cent. The group was positive over its outlook for the rest of the year. Its order book stands at £4.1bn, up 10 per cent on last year. It closed up 26p at 1693p.

Another of the climbers was Carpetright, which is set to announce a first-quarter update today. Traders are expecting an update on the rumoured offer from founder Lord Harris of Peckham, which hit the headlines in June. It sent the shares soaring to a year peak of 1340p, but as the news flow dried up so did the support. It closed up 9p yesterday at 1,092p.

On the growth market, Clerkenwell Ventures soared after announcing it had raised £25.6m as it actively pursues acquisition targets in the leisure sector. The group is then attempting a share consolidation on a ration of 5 to 1. The shares closed 24 per cent up at 7.75p.

Omega Diagnostics Group returned to AIM as one of the top fallers, as the market digested news it had completed a £6.7m reverse takeover. The medical diagnostics company raised £2.2m in a placement after agreeing a deal for Genesis Diagnostics and Cambridge Nutritional Sciences. The placing will trigger a capital reorganisation and share consolidation. Omega fell 16.67 per cent to 0.75p.

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