BTR retreats again on trading statement rumours

MARKET REPORT

The agony continues for BTR, the once high-flying conglomerate which has become a permanent feature of the stock market doghouse.

The shares tumbled 6.5p to 231.5p, lowest for five years as worries grew about the contents of a rumoured trading statement which could, some believe, appear today.

BTR fell out of favour with the rest of the conglom clan. The new chief executive, Ian Strachan, is struggling to reshape the sprawling group into a focused global engineering and manufacturing operation.

Interim profits, produced in September, were subdued but encouraged some analysts to adopt a more positive stance. Yet the shares have continued their seemingly remorseless slide to the particular dismay, no doubt, of many former holders of the 1996 warrants.

After the interim figures, the price, down to 231.5p in the summer, moved to 280p, an encouraging development for BTR, which had issued warrants with a 258p striking price. In the event the group pulled in pounds 280m as most warrant holders were tempted to take up their share entitlements.

The latest BTR retreat occurred as the stock market pondered the sudden weakness in New York and was ruffled by uncertainty on the gilts front, where there was widespread disappointment over the result of the pounds 2.5bn Government stocks auction. It was covered only 1.7 times against expectations approaching 2.5 times.

Footsie fell 16.3 points to 4,045.2 with the supporting indices also giving ground. The overhang from the Government's sales of utility rumps also disturbed sentiment.

HSBC James Capel, famed for its involvement in the long-running mystery of Hanson's National Grid share sale, disclosed it was still hugging most of the British Energy shares it had picked up from the Government. Its total stake, listed as a market makers holding, amounts to 8.75 per cent of Energy's capital. Other securities houses are also sitting on stock the Government unloaded.

Capel acted for Saudi Arabian billionaire Sulimann S Olayan in May when, in a confusing derivatives deal, he emerged as a 12.5 per cent shareholder in the grid.

General Electric Co, figures tomorrow, was little changed at 363.5p. Lehman Brothers is looking for interim profits to be up 7 per cent to pounds 431m. It has put a 1997 target price of 405p on the shares.

British Aerospace ran into turbulence, falling 28.5p to 1,121.5p as the French government suspended moves to privatise Thomson. The aero group was a junior partner in what had appeared to be the successful vehicle for the privatisation.

House of Fraser, the department store chain, was given another takeover whirl with Burton replaced by Sears and Storehouse as the most likely bidders. One suggestion was Sears, which should have cash to spare if it sells its mail order side, might use the Fraser outlets to roll out a national Selfridges chain. Harvey Nichols could, however, emerge as a surprise candidate. It has been flexing its muscles and could see Fraser as a quick route to achieving a more widespread presence.

Glaxo Wellcome fell 11p to 958p. Merrill Lynch has made cautious noises and trimmed its profit expectations. A suggested switch from Cable & Wireless into BT lowered Cable 13.5p to 460.5p and lifted BT 5.5p to 386.5p.

There appeared to be something of a tug-of-war over Maiden, the advertising group. The shares plunged 28p to 266.5p with UBS apparently doing the damage with a profit downgrade. NatWest Securities, however, remained supportive, sticking with its pounds 8.1m forecast against pounds 3.6m last year.

Meyer International, the timber group, was shaved 1.5p to 368.5p with Merrill Lynch downgrading and saying sell. Wescol, a structural steel group, gained 2p to 54.5p as the chairman, Peter Price, confirmed a high order intake.

Enviromed, a medical group, firmed to 24.5p as a US group, Selfcare, demanded a shareholders' meeting to press for the sacking of the board and its replacement by its own nominees. Selfcare has 28.9 per cent of Enviromed, which is resisting the US attack. It is the second US strike this year; earlier a company related to Selfcare was defeated.

Ritz Music made a low-key Ofex debut, holding at its 55p placing. Leslie Wise, the fashion group, fell 11.5p to 37.5p after a bleak statement which included a warning of a dividend cut.

Hansom, the taxi cabs group, reversed 1.5p to 7p, a low. The shares were 53p a year ago. The company raised pounds 1.5m through a share sale at 5.5p.

Taking Stock

rJohn D Wood, the up-market residential estate agent, jumped 9p to 84.5p, a year's high. The excitement stems from the apparent continuing activity in the London housing market with, it seems, the higher mortgage rates blissfully ignored. Joint chairman George Pope has estimated London house prices will rise by at least 20 per cent this year. Last year Wood made profits of pounds 729,000; around pounds 1.2m could be achieved in the current year which ends in April.

rManchester City, the struggling football club, fell 5p to 110p on Ofex after confirming a pounds 10.8m cash call at 80p a share, underwritten by John Wardle and Stephen Boler.

The company promises a bonus issue of shares or warrants if the club wins promotion.

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