Berisford parts from broker after profits warning; MARKET REPORT

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The Independent Online
Berisford International, which stunned the stock market with a profit warning, has suddenly parted company with its long-time stockbroker, ABN Amro Hoare Govett. Although Hoare played down the split there is little doubt it resigned because it felt uncomfortable with Berisford's trading performance and its shares slump; the price is at a year's low of 103p against 268p last year.

In September, at around the time of the profit warning. Hoare's chairman, Peter Meinertzhagen, admitted the securities house had experienced a difficult third quarter but said market-making losses were "a lot less" than a rumoured pounds 20m. The shares which were thought to have caused Hoare so much trouble were Berisford, Hanson, Iceland and the suspended Wickes.

Since Alan Bowkett started to transform Berisford, a former commodities group, it has raised, through Hoare, pounds 58.7m to take over the Magnet kitchen operation and then, with a loan stock, pounds 334m, largely to fund the takeover of Welbilt, a US maker of commercial kitchen equipment.

An industrial dispute at Magnet and a downturn in the US were blamed for the profit warning when expectations for the year ended September were cut to pounds 25m from pounds 33m. Barclays de Zoete Wedd has taken over as Berisford's broker.

The rest of the market made hesitant progress with Footsie up 19.9 points to 3,934.3 with the latest interest rate comments of Bank of England Governor Eddie George creating more caution.

The Retail Consortium's October survey helped retailers although much of Dixons' 18.5p gain to 566p was due to a story of a Kingfisher bid. The confusion could have been caused by Kingfisher's pounds 51m afternoon swoop on United Utilities retail arm.

Burton was actively traded with talk of an institutional seller, possibly UBS. There were also rumours of a bid for House of Fraser. It was enough to lower the shares 3.25p to 144.5p.

The proposed French insurance merger between Axa and UAP lifted insurance shares with Sun Life & Provincial, controlled by UAP, up 6.5p to 244.5p.

Allied Domecq's poor figures left the shares down 14p to 454p. Since chairman Sir Christopher Hogg let it be known over the weekend that he had rejected thoughts of a demerger the shares have lost 30.5p.

Guinness frothed up 8.5p to 445.5p as stories resurfaced that LVMH was moving towards placing all or part of its 21 per cent interest. It was suggested a number of securities houses had talked to the French group but had been unable to agree a price. With its thirst to expand the French group is thought to be keen to raise cash and it is coming round to the view that Guinness represents its cash cow.

Eurodisc Electron fell a further 15.5p to 138.5p following a warning of lower interim profits but Wardle Storeys, a maker of survival equipment, jumped 42p to 503.5p on a 47.3 per cent profit advance and bullish statement.

Vodafone fell 3.5p to 239.5p despite confident noises from Merrill Lynch, suggesting a 280p target price. A buyer of call options lifted BT 2p to 359p.

BAT Industries, up 6p at 426p, and Imperial Group, 5.5p to 364p, drew encouragement from a leading US investment fund's decision not to sell its tobacco shareholdings.

Imperial Chemical Industries rose 12p to 779.5p on Credit Lyonnais Laing support but an investment presentation did little for P&O, off 1.5p to 598p. East Midlands Electricity ended 7.5p higher at 611p as talks started with potential US bidder, Dominion Resources.

Pearson rose 12.5p to 729p in belated response to the new Henderson Crosthwaite break-up valuation of 970p. EMI, the showbiz group, gained 24p to 1,237.5p ahead of interim figures scheduled for next week. The shares have failed to live up to expectations since the demerger from the Thorn rental operation. They have fallen from 1,486p as the rumoured bidder failed to appear and worries have grown about increasing competition.

Capital Radio remained out of tune following its bid for the My Kinda Town restaurant chain. Its shares fell a further 25p to 552.5p.

Yates Brothers Wine Lodges, an unsuccessful bidder for the Tom Cobleigh pubs chain, is raising pounds 7.5m, placing shares through Panmure Gordon at 385p. The price firmed to 392.5p. British Biotech slipped to 226.5p. Greig Middleton remain bullish. Analysts suggest a fair value price of 502p, rising to 742p by the end of next year.