BTR out of step as Footsie continues to march forward; MARKET REPORT

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The Independent Online
BTR, the sprawling conglomerate which Ian Strachan is endeavouring to reinvent as a global engineering and manufacturing group, fell 6.5p to 254.5p, its lowest since August when worries abounded about its interim profits. In the event the figures were at least in line with the most subdued expectations and the shares moved ahead, topping 280p.

Such an advance was crucial to BTR. It had a batch of warrants exercisable at 258p within 30 days of last month's results. If taken up in full they represented a much-needed pounds 280m cash inflow.

For months before the interim figures BTR shares traded below the warrant strike price. Now the figures are out and the warrants exercised by those who felt it worthwhile to do so, BTR shares seem to be back on the downward trail. Volume yesterday was put at around 8.5 million with some lumpy deals going through at below the old warrant price. BTR has dramatically underperformed other blue chips. The Strachan revamping exercise is welcome but many observers fear it will be years before any benefits start to flow through.

The once-fashionable conglom suffered its latest reverse as front-running shares hit yet another peak, with Footsie up 20 points to a record 4,073.1. Once again volume was less than inspiring, with many investors content to sit on the sidelines. Positive trading in New York was again the most telling influence.

Pearson, the media group, was the best-performing blue chip. Last week's management changes, which promoted little-known Marjorie Scardino to chief executive, were forgotten as bid stories swirled. BSkyB, the satellite television station, denied rumoured interest but Pearson, for long seen as a break-up bid candidate, was undaunted, gaining 33.5p to 730p.

If BSkyB does not pounce there is a strong belief others will. Analysts believe the Financial Times to Lazard banking group commands a break-up valuation of more than 900p. BSkyB edged forward 5.5p to 696.5p.

Reuters, ahead of an investment presentation, put on 10.5p to 806p. The group's innovative plan to hand out cash to shareholders has been blocked by the Government's clamp on share buybacks but some wonder whether the information group is preparing a special dividend plan to overcome the Whitehall block.

Cadbury Schweppes, with presentations in the US, melted 3p to 517.5p. It seems there is a growing divide between London and US analysts about the group's prospects in general and in particular its decision to challenge the might of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola in their home market.

Zeneca, the drugs group, was another to defy gravity, up 33.5p to 1,758.5p. Cortecs International managed a modest 6.5p rally to 206.5p on new developments, including a migraine treatment.

SkyePharma added 6p to 83p on its US deal and suggestions from SBC Warburg the shares could be worth around 100p.

Cable & Wireless edged ahead 4.5p to 441p on hopes it could, without too much of a cash outlay, emerge as a major shareholder in Videotron, the cable company.

National Westminster Bank improved 12p to 721p as ABN Amro Hoare Govett suggested a switch out of Abbey National, down 5p to 604.5p.

T&N stuck at 129p although Warburg believe the shares are worth nearer 100p; Imperial Chemical Industries, ahead of figures on Thursday, fell 5p to 792.5p.

Oils were firm, partly on the strength of the crude price. British Petroleum added 9p to 687.5p following its joint venture in China.

East Midlands Electricity edged forward to 465.5p. There is a growing suspicion it will be the next utility to attract US attention. The shares are around their year's low, leaving the group looking vulnerable to a determined strike.

A trading statement from Sleepy Kids, the merchandising operation taking in the Duchess of York's creation, Budgie the Helicopter, sent the shares spinning 6.5p lower to 20p.

Strong & Fisher, the leather group, spurted 8p to 20.5p on the mop-up bid from Hillsdown Holdings and CA Sperati (Special Agency), a button group which has for long enjoyed the dubious distinction of being one of the market's favourite shell situations, jumped 87.5p to 887.5p. The shares are an exceedingly thin market and consequently prone to sharp movements.

Conrad, the sports group was suspended at 6.75p. It is thought to be near to buying a football league club, with Sheffield United the name in the frame.

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