Another lusty performance from the biotech babes

MARKET REPORT

The fledgling biotechnology shares, the so-called bio babes, put on another lusty display.

British Biotech led the charge, its shares surging an astonishing 505p to 1,548p and warrants 496p to 1,015p after reporting positive trials of its cancer drug. Suggestions from Lehman Brothers that the shares were heading for pounds 20 heightened the excitement; some thought Lehman was being too cautious.

The shares arrived three years ago at 425p, a level they touched earlier this year.

Among others spurred into renewed action were Celltech, up 42p at 549p and ML Laboratories, where there is talk of deals with leading drug groups, up 16p to 372p.

Cortecs International added 11p to 162p, with Nikko saying although the shares have quadrupled in the past year they are still worth buying. Analyst Annabel MacIver suggests the group will be in the black, to the tune of pounds 1.4m, in 1997.

Proteus International was another attracting support. Yamaichi believes the group should announce five deals in the next three months and said: "buy as the deal flow crystalises". Analyst Dr Erling Refsum sees the company's losses, pounds 7.9m last year, down to pounds 2.4m in 1997.

It was a splendid day for a highly regarded drug company to make its debut. Peptide Theraputics, placed at 200p, hit 238p in busy trading. One drug share to miss the party was Scotia, off 32p to 563p.

Other shares were more subdued. Even so the FT-SE 100 index achieved yet another peak, gaining 8.8 points to 3,664.3. The unchanged German interest rates failed to dampen the expectation that UK base rates will soon be lowered and for once a weak New York opening was tolerated.

The seemingly unstoppable takeover fever was again a significant influence. House of Fraser was dragged into the turmoil, with Burton and Storehouse the named predators. The department stores chain, which has had a disappointing time since it arrived in 1994 at 180p, gained 10p to 167p. Burton, helped by UBS support, edged forward to 127p but Storehouse slipped 5p to 329p.

Sears had another poor session, with management changes provoking worries about trading in its shoe shops. The market has been lowering its profit expectations for some time. More downgradings left estimates around pounds 110m. In October forecasts topped pounds 150m. The shares fell 2.5p to 100p, not far from their year's low.

Standard Chartered, the banking group, remained in the bid frame, rising 10p to 606p. NatWest Securities helped the advance, upgrading next year's profits forecast to pounds 790m and the following year's to pounds 900m.

Airtours, the holiday group, had a torrid session as stories swept round the market that profits would be much lower than expected. The results are due later this month. In busy trading the shares fell 10p to 309p, a year's low.

De La Rue was another weak spot; the packaging group fell 35p to 660p as Merrill Lynch was said to have turned seller.

BSkyB, the satellite television group, was the best-performing blue chip, surging 20p to a 434p peak.

It is going into the Morgan Stanley Capital Index and, in a market short of stock, is still scoring from its Endsleigh League deal.

Peptide was not the only newcomer. Cash Converters International, an Australian group running a chain of what are described as quality second- hand shops, traded at 26p against a 24p placing level.

Cox Insurance Holdings, managing five Lloyd's syndicates, reached 110p following an introduction at 105p by stockbroker Raphael Zorn Hemsley.

Jasmin, an electronics group, introduced at 86p, reached 106p. TLG, formerly the lighting division of Thorn EMI, was little changed at 165p as Investcorp, a Bahrain investment bank, an early backer, placed a 19 per cent stake.

Coal Investments, the coal miner, which has fallen from 119p this year, lost a further 5p to 56p, a new low.

Problems which have delayed mining developments are known to have pulled back the timetable when the heavily borrowed group should make profits.

The company has said it hopes to be in the black before the end of its year in March. But there are growing doubts whether it will be able to achieve such an ambition.

Carlisle, a Nigel Wray vehicle where a significant injection is thought to be near, rose 2p to 17.75p as a long trickle of selling, which has depressed the price, was said to have come to an end.

TAKING STOCK

rAllied Radio could at long last be set for corporate action. Results are due soon and there is talk that they could be accompanied by details of an intriguing deal. In October the little group had the opportunity to broadcast some good news when it was granted an eight-year licence for its stations at Crawley and Reigate. The company owns Fortune 1458 in Manchester but has lost its Guildford licence. The shares have drifted from their year's high; they are now 3.75p.

rSanderson Electronics, the computer group, rose 5p to 145p. On Monday it produced peak profits of pounds 5.35m and Panmure Gordon is looking for pounds 6.2m this year and pounds 7.3m next. The group has the distinction of sponsoring two Premiership clubs, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton.

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