City fails to unmask Chiroscience's secret admirer


Investors spent most of the day trying to find out who, if anybody, was behind the near 10 per cent share-price rise in Chiroscience, the biotech babe which has attracted several broker's buy notes in the last week.

A round-up of the likely suspects yielded few results. Glaxo-Wellcome, reporting first half figures today, denied it was interested, SmithKline Beecham effectively ruled itself out by saying British biotech companies were too risky to buy outright at this stage in their development while Zeneca declined to comment.

Glaxo itself was the subject of buy recommendations from Societe Generale and NatWest and the shares closed 10p higher at 899p. Chiroscience, who said it had not received any firm approach from anybody, topped the list of FT-SE 250 riser, chalking up a 35p gain at 365p.

Among the drugs tiddlers Phytopharm initially gained 6p to 205p before ending a penny higher as the group sought UK approval for its eczema treatment.

Leisure was again a lively sector following confirmation that Whitbread had made a recommended pounds 133m offer for branded restaurants group Pelican. Whitbread dipped 3p to 686p on the news, but Pelican soared 22.5p to 167.5p. Shares in other restaurant chains rose in sympathy, with City Centre Restaurants advancing 4.5p to 120.5p, Pizza Express closing 6p better at 399p and Canadian Pizza 5p to the good at 88p.

Disappointment that Whitbread had not gone for pubs group Tom Cobleigh knocked its shares back 12p to 210p. A similar fate befell JD Wetherspoon, another themed pub operator, which fell 11p to 864p.

Leading leisure stocks had another good run. The Rank Organisation headed the list of blue-chip risers, adding 10p to 470p on a SBC Warburg buy recommendation. New chief executive Andrew Teare is expected to unveil details of a strategic review of the leisure group next week. Food and drinks giant Allied Domecq filled the number two slot, rising 9p to 438p as Merrill Lynch upgraded from reduce to neutral. Allied is in the process of selling its 50 per cent stake in Anglo-Danish brewer Carlsberg-Tetley to Bass, 2p weaker at 779p.

It was a busy day on the buses. In a chunky 74 page review of the industry, NatWest concluded that diversification by the quoted operators into rail privatisation and overseas expansion offered "tremendous opportunities" and should lead further strong share price performance.

Stagecoach hit an all-time high of 482p, 9p higher on the day, as the broker urged investors to add to their holdings. First Bus, unchanged at 144p, received the same recommendation.

But news that the President of the Board of Trade, Ian Lang, had referred National Express' proposed acquisition of the Midland Main Line rail franchise to the Monopolies and Merger Commission sent the shares into reverse. They shed 12p to 443p after Mr Lang said the company was not prepared to give the undertakings he had sought about withdrawing some parallel coach services and encouraging competition.

Mr Lang was more generous towards promotional printer Bemrose, whose pounds 24.2m acquisition of diary group Charles Letts will not now trouble the regulators any longer. Shares in Bemrose remained unmoved at 340p.

British Airways had a turbulent session. The shares cruised to 526p at one stage after MPs backed its proposed link-up with American Airlines. But minutes before the market closed USAir said it had filed a lawsuit against BA and American alleging that they are seeking to undermine its competitive position and limit competition on transatlantic routes. BA eventually closed unchanged at 518p.

Among media stocks, Pearson fell 18p at 606p on reports of possible delays in the sale of its Westminster Press division and likely cost-overruns for retuning video recorders ahead of Channel Five's launch next year.

United News & Media was also neglected, down 20p at 629p on concern that it may pay too much for Westminster if it becomes involved in an auction for Pearson's unit.

NatWest fell in afternoon trade after announcing first-half results at the top end of expectations. The bank's buy-back of its own shares at 626p pushed the price 12p lower at 616p.

The daily drip-feed of new issues on AIM largely went down well. HIT Entertainment, the children's animation group, closed at a 26p premium to its 163p placing price, but West 175 Enterprises, the US television production company, dipped 5p to 120p.

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