BT at new high despite pounds 500m windfall tax blow

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
BT led the blue chips leader board, dialling a new high. Only two days after Chancellor Gordon Brown hit the telecommunications giant with a pounds 500m windfall tax the shares reached 501.5p with an 22p gain. They opened on Budget day at 446p.

Although the tax was much less severe than many had expected and BT is comfortably placed to accommodate the penalty, it is the approaching merger with US telephony group MCI which is creating the excitement.

There was a strong body of opinion that BT had paid far too much. But the stock market has grown more and more friendly to the pounds 13bn deal as the bits and pieces have fallen into place.

The surprise recruitment of Bill Cockburn from the WH Smith retail chain is the latest move. He will run BT, allowing its present chief executive, Sir Peter Bonfield, to take charge of Concert, the new parent company which will overlord BT and MCI.

The rest of the stock market had another eventful session although the hectic trading so evident on Thursday was absent.

In a much calmer atmosphere Footsie moved between a 47.3 points gain and a 30.5 loss. It closed down 18.9 at 4,812.8 with trading volume much nearer the average at 867.1 million, although there were again violent swings in the futures market.

Some traders believed that New York's closure because of Independence Day provided a breathing space, allowing some of the tension to seep away.

Still the market remains on edge. The impact of the tax changes has not been fully absorbed. And the conviction remains that the Bank of England will be forced to lift interest rates next week, perhaps by half a percentage point. Other increases are expected later in the year.

Woolwich, the former building society, is due to arrive on Monday. IG Index, the financial bookie, expects a price of around 320p.

As if to welcome the latest recruit, the two recent building society additions led a rather subdued financial section. Alliance & Leicester rose 19p to 618.5p and Halifax 8p to 775.5p.

Groups suffering from sterling's strength remained under pressure. LucasVarity fell 10.5p to 192p and GKN 39p to 920p. British Steel was down 3.5p to 137.75p. T&N shaded 1p to 144p as NatWest Securities cut its profit forecasts.

TI, the engineer, recovered after denying the pension tax changes would hit profits. The shares closed off 6p at 473.5p; at one time they were down 29.5p.

Williams, down 6.6p to 321.5p, told analysts the quality and potential of its recently acquired Chubb Security group was encouraging.

Mirror Group improved 14.5p to 200.5p on relief that its pounds 297m cash bid for Midland Independent Newspapers was not accompanied by a rights issue. MIN rose 7p to 195.5p, with Mirror in the market, buying 24.98 per cent.

Albert Fisher, the food group in bid talks, gained 2p to 45.5p as it was disclosed that four directors had taken their dividend entitlements in shares rather than cash.

Thistle Hotels had a poor session, tormented by stories of a profits downgrading, probably from Merrill Lynch. The price fell 10p to 149p, lowest since last year's flotation. They touched 209p earlier this year.

PGA European Tours, the golf group, was bunkered after providing the day's profits warning; falling 8.5p to 51.5p.

Even the bid of the day failed to drew any enthusiasm Argent, a property group, collapsed 77.5p to 372.5p as the BT pension fund agreed to take 39.5 per cent of the company at 375p. The deal triggers a bid obligation although the pension fund intends to retain the listing.

The slump in the gold price following the revelation of big sales by the Australian central bank caused something approaching panic among gold holders and most gold shares gave ground.

Wassall hardened to 314.5p. Merrill Lynch and Albert E Sharp produced cautious comments on the conglomerate.

Fortune Oil stuck at 15.25p as the company duly produced its cash call - a pounds 23.4m three-for-four rights at 11p

Mackie International, the struggling engineer, returned at 28p after its rescue rights issue.

Life Numbers, the telephone numbers business, was suspended at 9.5p. It is the subject of a reverse takeover; XL Communications is gaining an AIM listing through the deal. The company publishes a range of magazines with Home and Life its flagship publication. Terry Humphreys, XL's managing director will run the enlarged group.

Taking Stock

Once high flying Display IT fell a further 40p to 360p as managing director Peter Levin hit out at "a concerted and continuing bear raid". He said the group's workstation was a "powerful software application" and he remains convinced it will have a significant impact on the financial information market. A contract which has come in for comment with a company called Alsina has already pulled in pounds 5.75m, half the total. The Ofex- traded shares were 810p earlier this year.

Robotic Technology held at 65.5p on Ofex. In a capital shake-up, Finnscrew of Finland's 48.7 per cent stake has been transferred to ARF, which is to make shares available to Robotic's staff. The company's profit ambitions for 1997/98 are on target.

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