BTR revival continues as Footsie splutters to new high

MARKET REPORT

Has BTR's long slide from grace finally ended - or are the shares merely experiencing a dead-cat bounce?

After a traumatic run, with the price crashing from 336.5p to 230.5p, the shares have enjoyed a spirited revival and yesterday rose another 3p to 284p.

BTR's comeback started on grey Friday; the bleak December day when Footsie was at one time down 168.5 points after US banking chief Alan Greenspan had warned about stock markets getting overheated.

It was, as blue chips slithered and slipped, the only Footsie constituent to score a gain.

Its sudden return to favour followed a trading statement which, far from shovelling the expected doom and gloom in the direction of shareholders, carried a modestly upbeat message.

Chief executive Ian Strachan clearly has a tough job reinventing the sprawling conglomerate. His trading statement was expected to be a torrid examination of the problems he was encountering.

The market had become so resigned to BTR remaining in a state of deep depression that it was happy to embrace anything sounding remotely positive.

However, Mr Strachan still has much to do. A return to the high-riding days of two years ago when the shares topped 400p could still be a long way off.

Indeed Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull is one of the more optimistic followers of the shares yet has confined its aspirations to a 300p March target.

The main beneficiary of the BTR revival has been the group's 1997 warrants. Down to 14.5p last month they closed at 33.5p, up 1.75p.

Footsie did, after all, puff and splutter its way to a New Year's Eve peak - but it was a close-run exercise. The index finished at 4,118.5p points, up 2.8. Trading was, as expected, thin during the half-day session and once again most of the action was generated by New Year tips and a few fund managers gently indulging in a little year-end window-dressing.

The market ignored a little hesitancy in New York and the various more cautionary elements such as interest rates, sterling's rampant form and the political uncertainty.

It was as if it was insulated from the big wide world and was determined to do its own thing and end the year, if not on a high note, on a reasonably positive one.

During the year Footsie has climbed 429.2 points and the supporting FTSE 250 index 469.1.

What was left of the old Unlisted Securities Market quietly disappeared with most of its remaining constituents finding homes elsewhere.

United Biscuits, where there has been signs of tentative nibbling over the festive season, added 2.5p to 210p. The shares have struggled from a 196p low last month.

Modest profit progress could be achieved this year but it is a return of takeover hopes which would offer the shares inspiration. But UB has, in a takeover sense, suffered so many false dawns that the shares now have little speculative appeal.

Oils were supported with the current cold snap underpinning crude prices.

The sector, after two take-over bids last month, is also prone to speculative activity. Enterprise Oil was by far the best performing oil share, gaining 11p to 648.5p.

Eurotunnel was lowered 1.5p to 79p after an electrical fault delayed a Paris-bound Eurostar train but Airtours, on reports of a holiday booking surge, climbed 4p to 812.5p.

The bio-babes were back in form. Biocompatibles International jumped a further 20p to 820p and Peptide Therapeutics added 17.5p to 230p.

Chiroscience rose 13.5p to 335p. The group has attracted favourable comment but according to Greig Middleton, the stockbroker, is still a long way from enjoying the luxury of profits. It forecasts losses of pounds 17.9m this year, rising to pounds 19.8m next. The stockbroker's fair value assessment is 360p.

Pentland, the sports group, gained 2p to 100p on suggestions its greeting cards division would soon be the subject of a management buyout and Blacks Leisure reinforced its top-of-the-table position with a 21.5p gain to 386.5p.

EMI, the showbiz group which has been accorded the dubious distinction of being the market's hot takeover stock for 1997, edged forward 7.5p to 1,380p.The shares have climbed from a 1,193.5p low in November but are still below the 1,486p peak hit in the summer.

Chemical and timber group Harrisons & Crosfield which is also high in the market takeover stakes, rose 4.5p to 133.5p.

Taking Stock

Calluna, a maker and distributor of miniature disk drive products, should swing into profits next year, believes stockbroker Albert E Sharp. Analyst Richard Lucas is looking for a pounds 4.5m loss this year and then profits of pounds 5.3m followed by pounds 13.8m. The company has funded expected volume production of its new disk drive through a pounds 4.7m rights issue. The shares are 55.5p, down from a 124.5p spring-time high.

Management consultant Proudfoot ended the year down 1p at a new 14p low. The shares were 400p in 1991. There are hopes a pounds 4m profit will be achieved this year against a pounds 1.9m loss.

Hambro Countrywide, the estate agent, climbed 1.5p to 94p on optimistic forecasts for the housing market. The shares were 36p in January.

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