Cable & Wireless expected to clinch deal with China

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
The stock market is convinced Cable & Wireless is on the verge of clinching a deal with the Chinese government over its controlling stake in Hong Kong Telecom.

Today HKT is expected to ring in with its profits for the year ending March. With Hong Kong's heady days of empire soon to come to an inglorious end time is pressing on Cable to reshape its Far Eastern role.

Although Cable is unlikely to be a position to resolve the problem today, there are hopes it will be able at least to give a clear indication of the outline of its proposed deal with the HKT figures or when it presents its results next week.

Cable has 58 per cent of HKT with the Chinese authorities accounting for approaching 10 per cent. There have been suggestions it will be forced to cut its holding to 40 per cent if it wants a peaceful ride after the Chinese claim the colony. In return it would be allowed a privileged position in the development of the vast - and potentially lucrative - Chinese telephone market.

It is rumoured Cable is reluctant to lower its stake below 50 per cent and is trying to persuade the Chinese of the validity of its argument. If it is able to keep control of HKT and still dial into the Chinese market it would represent a considerable victory for chief executive Dick Brown.

HKT is thought to be on line to produce profits of up to HK$11.5bn; Cable should manage pounds 1.35bn compared with pounds 1.26bn. Its shares rose 14.5p to 496.5p; they touched 546p when the group was involved in abortive merger talks with BT last year.

The rest of the market continued its Blair run with Footsie closing at another peak, up 18.2 points at 4,537.5. Earlier, before a subdued Wall Street encouraged profit-taking, it was 42.7 higher. Supporting shares remained on the sidelines with the FTSE 250 off 1.2.

Imperial Chemical Industries was the day's blue chip star, up 43p to 757.5p. There had been fears its pounds 4.9bn takeover of Unilever's speciality chemical business would prompt a rights issue.

But ICI is funding the deal through a loan and also plans to sell assets worth pounds 3bn, including its 62.4 per cent interest in its Australian arm.

Unilever shaded 3.5p to 1,644p as the market pondered what it will do with its cash inflow. Reckitt & Colman could be the answer; it rose 11.5p to 884p, a high.

Rexam, the packaging and paper group, produced an encouraging trading statement, gaining 14p to 305p, but Dalgety collected the wooden spoon with a 41.5p fall to 269p as it warned on profits and said its year's dividend would be cut by a third.

BSkyB, at one time up 20p, had to settle for a 5.5p gain at 601p after it duly produced its digital television link-up with BT and others.

Rank, the leisure group, gained 5p to 445p. Henderson Crosthwaite hosted another of its institutional dinners last night with 18 fund managers meeting chief executive Andrew Teare at London's Howard Hotel.

Cobham, the engineer, put on 13.5p to 645p following the analysts' visit and despite a Merrill Lynch upgrade Manchester United celebrated its Premiership achievement with a 22p fall to 639p.

Aston Villa, the latest football club to arrive, enjoyed a heady premium - at least until half time. Placed at 1,100p the shares touched 1,200p but closed at 1,070p.

Shield Diagnostic had another ill-at-ease session. The shares, 805p a little while ago, fell 45p to 292.5p.

Cairn Energy was another high flyer under pressure. It lost 14p to 531p against 634.5p in March. There are, apparently, shares sloshing around the system as institutions adjust their weightings. Clothing group Jacques Vert was another casualty, falling 13p to 26.5p following a profit warning.

British Dredging gained 18p to 152.5p as Grafton, a builders merchant, paid pounds 6.3m for nearly 25 per cent. The stake was built by a mysterious Panamanian company, Redbird.

Petra Diamonds was back in demand, gaining 11p to 64.5p and the warrants 9.5p to 39.5p. There is talk that a progress report could appear today.

Ex-Lands eased 0.5p to 20.75p as Martin Myers, the property man expected to inject assets into the company and join the board, decided to trim his stake to 6.6 per cent.

On Ofex, Energiser, the health food group, jumped again - 125p to 975p.

Taking Stock

rMore turmoil appears likely at Pan Andean Resources, the oil explorer which touched 135.5p last year only to crash to 33.5p when its Bolivian well was judged to be uncommercial. PAR and BHP, the Australian group which has financed most of the exploration, seem unable to agree a new partnership so PAR will take full control of the block and data costing $30m. PAR says it remains confident and will continue its search for oil and gas. The shares fell 4p to 48.5p.

rInteresting situation at Barr & Wallace Arnold. It firmed 3p to 269.5p, pricing the group at pounds 40m. If it sells its leisure side, and it has received one known offer of pounds 35m, it would be left with its motor operations, which made profits of pounds 4.6m last year.

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