The company is 56 per cent-owned by Pentland, the Rubin family investment vehicle that owns UK sports brands including Speedo, Ellesse and Kickers. Gossips suggested that a private equity-backed bidder had approached Pentland with a view to taking over that stake and then launching a full takeover offer.
Inevitably, the name Baugur was raised, since the acquisitive Icelandic retailer is likely to be back on the acquisition trail now that its chief executive seems close to fighting off corruption charges against him. But in truth, traders appeared unable to settle on a single story to explain John David's share price jump of 34.5p to 255p. Sources close to the company said its brokers were fully aware of the rules requiring disclosure of a bid approach that might have leaked - and there would be no such disclosure.
Pentland certainly cannot have made a bid - at least not yet. It is disbarred from doing so until Christmas, having made one offer in the spring when it bought 45 per cent of John David from its founders. That offer was derisory and meant to fail, and Pentland insisted at the time that the stake was a long-term investment, rather than a platform for a takeover.
In total, Pentland has paid about £57m for its shares in John David and, at last night's share price, has a paper profit of £11m.
John David aside, yesterday proved a day when traders unwound their speculative positions rather than added to them. This was most noticeable in Pilkington, the glass maker which has long been seen as the next meal for a predator in the consolidating building-materials sector. The stock at one point threatened to collapse, and was down almost 10 per cent, before recovering a little to end down 6.25p at 143.5p. Signals from Japan suggested Nippon Steel, which owns 20 per cent of Pilkington, is neither a potential bidder nor a keen seller at the moment. It was the busiest day for trading in Pilkington shares in the past 13 years.
Other recent bid stories also appeared to fade. The mobile phone operator O2 dipped 4.5p to 152p, for instance. And while there was a brief flurry of excitement when a rumour about the resignation of Charles Allen swept dealing rooms, suggestingITV was in effect being put up for sale, it turned out that it was the broadcaster's finance director, not its chief executive, who is leaving. ITV shares, up 4p at one point, ended just a ha'penny in positive territory, at 111p.
The FTSE 100 closed at 5,369.7, off 46.7 points, in keeping with the disappointing start to trading on Wall Street. Traders said they expected a "cooling-off period" that could last at least until it is clear what impact the gathering Hurricane Rita will have on oil production and refining in the US.
With fuel prices rising again as Rita grew stronger throughout the afternoon, major FTSE 100 oil and gas groups outpaced the market. BG Group, 7p better at 539.5p, and BP, up 2p to 663p, did best.
Marks & Spencer topped the FTSE 100 performance league after more positive comment on its autumn collections and on the improved profit margin investors can expect. Its stock was up 8.75p to 354p. And Boots was also a bright spot in the retail sector. There was speculation it could get much more than the £1bn originally mooted for its Clearasil-to-Strepsils consumer healthcare unit, which is up for sale. One hedge fund that ran the numbers thought a consumer goods giant such as Reckitt Benckiser, down 41p to 1,739p, might still make a decent return on the acquisition if the price was almost double that.
Mining stocks had a mixed day. Rio Tinto ended at a new all-time high (up 7p at 2,160p). But BHP Billiton came off by 3p to 858p and Xstrata was down 13p from its record high on Monday to 1,428p. Mike Davies, the company's chief executive, netted a thumping £11.4m in return for share options granted to him when he joined the company in 2001, before the great commodity price inflation began.
PartyGaming was under pressure, off 4.5p at 105.25p on concern over the longevity of the online poker fad. And these concerns spread to NETeller, which acts as an "e-wallet" transferring money from punter to poker site. Previously unscathed by news of weaker growth, NETeller shares fell 36p to 825p yesterday amid talk of a bear raid that will push them down further.
Huntleigh Technology, a maker of wheelchairs and hospital beds, fell 16p to 343.5p after a placing of 3.3 million shares at 340p. The company said the founding Schild family was not selling, suggesting one of its biggest institutional backers was taking cash out.
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