Assault on Seeboard sends electricity prices sizzling

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Electricity shares were crackling again as another US group descended on the industry with what appeared to be a knockout bid.

Seeboard, the willing victim of a pounds 1.6bn offer from Central & South West, surged 97p to 628p, a few coppers below the bid level. The US assault sent the shares of the remaining regional electricity companies romping ahead.

The survivors from the 1990 privatisation are clearly doomed to disappear; it's just a question of price.

East Midland rose 24p to 919p; London 17p to 923p; South Wales 34p to 960p and Yorkshire 31p to 929p.

Northern, which received the first assault when Trafalgar House launched its controversial and unsuccessful offer, has already handed back much of its riches to shareholders. Now heavily geared it nevertheless jumped 37p to 915p. And Northern Ireland Electricity, outside the main circuit, edged forward 3p to 445p.

The electrical excitement helped the market to achieve modest headway in thin trading. The FT-SE 100 index ended 14.4 points higher at 3,514.8. The Americans swooped into the market, picking up 23.93 per cent of Seeboard. Turnover in the shares reached a staggering 114.32 million; total market volume was 657.8 million.

But British Gas drew little warmth from the advance. It fell 4.5p to 228.5p, lowest for five years.

The doubts expressed by the industry regulator Clare Spottiswoode over the group's future had already undermined the shares and reports British Petroleum could barge into its domestic market added fuel to the growing doubts about what once seemed to be an impregnable giant.

Waters were weak as Whitehall's apparent dithering over the French bid for Northumbrian ruffled sentiment. A statement, in effect, clearing the way for the bid has been expected for some weeks. But the lack of any decision is raising doubts whether the French will be offered sufficiently encouraging terms to make an offer.

Glaxo Wellcome, meeting analysts tomorrow, recovered from Friday's fiasco when it was said to be facing a pounds 1.5bn tax bill. The shares recovered 20p to 871p. Hopes that the US Food and Drug Administration will clear the group's Epivir HIV treatment also helped the shares. Zeneca climbed 26p to 1,208p, just a whisker from its peak.

Allied Domecq, year's figures today, endured an uncertain session, at one time falling 6.5p. The shares closed at 493p, off 1.5p.

Cazenove was said to be caution about the results and Lehman Brothers had the shares on its sell list.

An investment presentation left Guinness little changed at 509p; NatWest Securities worries about BT's dividend growth pulled the shares 4p lower to 366p.

Rolls-Royce seems at last to have got its (bullish) message through to at least some institutions. The shares, under pressure recently, turned in the best blue-chip display, gaining 5.5p to 156p.

To combat gloomy predictions in some quarters Rolls has undertaken a series of investment presentations. Merrill Lynch moved its recommendation from hold to buy, upgrading its 1996 profit forecast to pounds 235m from pounds 205m.

The day's newcomers fared well. Enterprise Inns moved to 149.5p from a 145p placing; Heritage Bathrooms closed at 151p against a 125p placing.

Aminex, the oil group with interests in the former Soviet Union, dipped 3p to 52p. A party of stockbrokers is due to visit its oil operations this week. Cluff Resources continued to gain on its bid approach, reaching 90p, up 8p. A US mining giant, Echo Bay, is regarded as the most likely predator.

Insurances were weak, with Credit Lyonnais Laing seemingly responsible for much of the damage. The securities house turned negative on the sector. With worries about competition from the Halifax building society-cum-bank and Merrill Lynch putting Sun Alliance on its sell list recent strength melted away with Royal Insurance off 7p at 381p and Sun Alliance 11p at 366p. The Halifax muscle-flexing added to the weakness of Royal Bank of Scotland, owner of Direct Line insurance, off 4p at 507p. Hickson International, the chemical group, fell 12p to 87p on a profits warning.

Cordiant, the advertising group, made further headway following its cash call, gaining 6p to 98p. Sage, the computer group, rose 8p to 270p.

Celsis International, one of the biotech babes, firmed to 128p as Yamaichi repeated its support.


rEnviromed, the struggling health-care group where a proposed management buyout and other bids failed to materialise, firmed to 20p as what could be one of the potential predators said to be still hovering declared a 9.1 per cent stake.

EN PLC Limited Partnership features a former Enviromed director, Ron Zwanziger, on its notepaper. The health-care group has had a disastrous time since it arrived on the stock market at 110p two years ago. In the first half of its last year it lost almost pounds 5m.

rBluebird, the toy group where Hasbro, the US giant, is said to be stake- building gained 17p to 376p. There is talk that Bluebird wants to strengthen its selling side and is in talks to take over a marketing business.