Petchey in the frame as Aston Villa predator

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The Independent Online

The word in the Square Mile is that Aston Villa's days as a listed company could be numbered, although it is far from clear who is going to buy the Premiership club. Dealers hear that a predator is circling Villa and its recent share price performance would certainly supports this theory.

The word in the Square Mile is that Aston Villa's days as a listed company could be numbered, although it is far from clear who is going to buy the Premiership club. Dealers hear that a predator is circling Villa and its recent share price performance would certainly supports this theory.

Over the past 12 months, shares in the club have doubled, leaving it valued at £26m. However, it has freehold property assets which are said to be worth more than £40m. It is this that has attracted the interest of Jack Petchey, the septuagenarian investor, who has built up a 16 per cent stake in the company via his Trefick investment vehicle. He has a history of building large stakes in property rich companies and either buying them himself or putting them into play for someone else to acquire.

Key to any deal will be the consent of Doug Ellis, Villa's 80-year-old chairman and 34 per cent shareholder. Analysts believe he is likely to be the main stumbling block to any takeover, given the particularly high value he ascribes to his shareholding. Villa shares held steady at 232.5p yesterday.

Among blue chips, Johnson Matthey gained 12.5p to 880.5p as Credit Suisse First Boston ushered its clients into the speciality chemicals group. It argued that a re-rating of the stock is about to happen and so upgraded its rating to "outperform" from "neutral". CSFB described Johnson Matthey as having the best business model in the sector and set a 975p price target on stock.

Legal & General rose 1.25p to 94.5p after Lehman Brothers upgraded the insurer to "overweight" from "underweight" and set a 114p price target. The wider FTSE 100 index dropped 9 points to 4,909.4 after a lacklustre start to trading on Wall Street.

Analysts at Credit Suisse First Boston came away uninspired from a meeting with senior management at LogicaCMG, up 1.5p to 255.25p. Seamus Keating, Logica's finance director, is believed to have indicated that although market conditions have improved in 2004 for the group, the recovery in demand for IT solutions is still very modest. In particular, demand is still weak for consulting and systems integrated services, which account for 62 per cent of LogicaCMG revenues.

Dealers reported strong demand for Headlam, the floor coverings group, pushing its shares 15p better to 386.5p. From a purely technical point of view, the next stop for the stock looks to be about 420p, say traders. Meanwhile, word has it that the underlying business is performing strongly and Headlam is tipped to issue a bullish trading statement at next week's annual meeting.

Corus gained 0.75p to 37.5p as it emerged that Alisher Usmanov, the Russian tycoon, has raised his shareholding in the Anglo-Dutch steel group to 12 per cent.

Strong results from Barratt Developments got investors moving into the housing sector. Bovis Homes rose 18p to 597p, Persimmon added 26p to 686.5p, Berkeley added 24.5p to 1,050p and Wilson Bowden gained 20p to 1,197p as Barratt boasted of a 35 per cent jump in first half profitability, beating even the most bullish of analyst forecast.

Crest Nicholson was 8.5p higher at 355p despite news that Jack Petchey's Trefick investment vehicle had sold down its stake in the group. At the start of February, Trefick disclosed a 3 per cent holding in Crest. The house builder's other major shareholder, Gerald Ronson's Heron International, controls 12 per cent of the company, meaning that takeover speculation has long surrounded Crest.

Talk of a bid has circled Westbury of late and yesterday helped the group's shares rise 11.25p to 506.25. Analysts believe Persimmon is the most likely suitor for Westbury.

Lower down the pecking order, Asos went 2.25p better to 12.75p in response to the purchase of 180,000 shares at 12.75p by John Morgan, the finance director of the internet group.

Director share buying also got stocks in GB Group moving. Its shares ticked 0.75p higher to 21.75p after Richard Law, the chief executive, picked up 50,000 shares at 20p as did Mona Navin-Mealey, the finance director.

Macro 4 lost 6p to 147.5p amid concerns that the improvement in corporate software spending is yet to filter through to the company. CA Coutts put on 3p to 119.5p after announcing a strong rise in full year profits and issuing a bullish outlook statement. Pre-tax profits at Coutts soared to £1.8m from £430,000.

Kuju jumped 3p to 20.5p after unveiling a development and publishing deal with Nintendo. The AIM-listed computer games developer raised £750,000 at 11p earlier this month and looks to be putting the cash to good use. Telemetrix, the semiconductor group, was unmoved by the sale of 30,000 shares at 150p by Tim Curtis, its chief executive. The stock was pegged at 151.5p.

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