Christian Salvesen said to be bid target

Market Report

IS CHRISTIAN SALVESEN about to step into the bid spotlight? Whispers of a takeover returned to haunt the logistics and food services group yesterday as some big buyers moved in.

The stock settled 10p higher at a 12-month peak of 133.5p as a wad of hot money chased the underperforming group and Credit Lyonnais said "buy".

According to the Square Mile's dealing rooms, the wave of consolidation sweeping through the logistics industry could soon engulf Salvesen. The company has undergone a painful restructuring in the past few years, spinning off its power-hire business Aggreko, and could be a tasty acquisition for a rival wishing to boost its UK operations.

The boys in the know said Salvesen could attract a bid of about 160p per share, which will value it at about pounds 424m.

The support services giant Hays, up 8.5p at 663.5p, was mooted as a possible bidder. The blue-chip group had a pounds 1.2bn pop at Salvesen about three years ago, but its bid failed to impress the logistics group's shareholders.

An overseas rival could also be attracted to Salvesen's healthy margins and strong management. Former state-owned post offices such as Deutsche Post and TNT Post are expanding through acquisition of parcel businesses, and Salvesen would fit well. Federal Express, the US giant, could also do with a bigger UK presence.

Any potential bidder will have to convince the Salvesen family, which owns around 10 per cent, to sell their domestic silver.

The rest of the market was in an excellent mood and followed Wall Street higher. The FTSE 100 put together a credible afternoon rally and finished 53.7 points better at 6,504.9. The late spurt helped blue chips to cross the 6,500 threshold for the first time in over a month. Wall Street took most of the credit for this performance. The Dow was roaring away when London closed, after a tame set of inflation data eased fears of an interest- rate hike.

The second liners hitched a ride on the leaders' bandwagon. The FTSE 250 closed 43.7 points higher at 5,871.7, within touching distance of its 1999 high, while the Small Cap ended 10.7 better at 2,622.9.

Buyers climbed aboard Railtrack as brokers welcomed Tuesday's Tube deal. The stock soared 110p to 1,440p - the best blue-chip of the day - as Warburg advised clients to buy up to 1,700p.

Barclays was the banks' unlikely hero. The leaderless high-street lender cashed in a 65p rise to 1,916p after telling analysts that all its businesses have had a positive start to the year. Barclays' would-be partner, Royal Bank of Scotland, jumped 30p to 1,359p in sympathy.

Barclays' bullish words echoed a recent statement by Bank of Scotland, up 31.5p to 893.5p. Lloyds TSB firmed 31p to 896.5p on returning talk of a big deal, with Legal & General, 6.25p higher at 177p, still the favourite target.

Alliance & Leicester missed the fun. The stock shed 17p to 877p on rumours, confirmed after the close, that the merger with Bank of Ireland, up 1p to 1,074p, was off.

Fellow Irish group Allied Irish Banks fell 40p to 815p on fears that it might drop out of the influential Stoxx 50 pan-European index.

The Net stalwart Dixons logged on to a 24p rise to 1,174p on talk that Freeserve could be valued at up to pounds 1.9bn. The prospectus is due soon. The software minnow Vocalis soared 9p to 92.5p after Freeserve agreed to trial its speech mail kit.

Gas group BOC ballooned 55p higher to 1,220p on returning talk of a merger with US rival Praxair. Securicor, results today, firmed 14p to 547p on hopes of disposals of its Cellnet stake.

The Rentokil analysts' roadshow rolled on and the stock put on 13.25p to 267p. Cadbury Schweppes, also hobnobbing in the City, had no such luck; the shares melted 28.75p to 409.75p after unimpressed analysts slashed their forecasts.

AstraZeneca lost a sickly 38p to 2,500 after WestLB Panmure issued a bearish note and a 2,000p target. Rival Glaxo fell 35p to 1,830 on old fears of a hostile bid for SmithKline Beecham, up 5p to 865p.

CSFB wielded the axe on food retailers. According to the broker, the Wal-Mart bid for Asda will hit Tesco, down 7p to 173.25p and Morrison, 8.5p lower at 150.5p. Fellow retailer GUS slipped 14.5p to 620.5p ahead of today's results.

Food maker Albert Fisher attracted speculative buyers. The shares rose 1p to 14.5p on talk of a 25p-per-share bid from banana group Fyffes or US rival Dole. Another story talked of an imminent pounds 60m US disposal.

A bizarre 180p-per-share takeover by a Greek bottler sent Coca-Cola Beverages 31p higher to 145.5p. The oil group British Borneo struck a 20.5p advance to 193p on renewed talk of a bid from Elf and higher crude price. The same Elf rumour helped Enterprise Oil to rise 1.5p to 421.5p.

Plasterboard maker BPB, up 25p to 365p, and packaging midcapper Rexam, 16.5p better at 267.5p, were boosted by vague bid whispers. Hopes of lower interest rates powered the housebuilders. Wimpey, 8.5p better at 162p, and Bryant, 8p higher at 161p, were the pick of the sector.

Poor Airtours nosedived 18.5p to 498p as rivals First Choice and Kuoni agreed to speed up their marriage.

The Internet recruiter Rexonline soared 17p to 101p on whispers of a major deal, possibly with BT. Tarpan, a cash shell, jumped 13.5p to 118.5p on hopes of a reverse takeover, while property agency Lambert Smith rose 26.5p to 247.5p after unveiling a 260p bid approach; acquisitive WS Atkins could be the bidder. Insurer Ockham jumped 9p to 86p on talk of a bid from rival Cox, down 7.5p to 181.5p.

London Clubs rose 11p to 148.5p on renewed takeover hopes, while Infobank confirmed its Compaq deal and firmed 7p to 111.5p. Computer group Ultima crashed 0.75p to 3p as its financial troubled deepened.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.2bn

SEAQ TRADES: 77,028

GILTS INDEX: 108.48 +0.09

THERE IS some talk that a predator is sniffing around construction group RCO Holdings. The stock built a 4.5p advance to 204p yesterday amid whispers of a bid at up to 350p. The company, which provides support services on construction sites, is involved in several private finance initiative projects to build and operate public buildings. RCO, which last year made pounds 1.8m on sales of pounds 57m, could be attractive for a rival willing to increase its PFI exposure.

KEEP AN eye on the oil minnow Aminex. The exploration group is believed to be about to announce a major corporate development.

Insiders are speculating that a big oil group may have decided to buy a stake. Moreover, Aminex has just completed the purchase of some promising fields along the Gulf of Mexico, and it also has a Russian project which is expected to yield some results in the near future.

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