Cookson cool as downgradings cause song and dance

MARKET REPORT
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Cookson, the industrial materials conglomerate, had the stock market on the hop. Earlier this week NatWest Securities, long-time bears of the shares, issued its umpteenth cautionary bulletin, cutting its profit forecasts by pounds 20m to pounds 170m and by pounds 10m to pounds 200m.

ABN Amro Hoare Govett quickly followed. It lowered its expectations by pounds 7m to pounds 171m and by pounds 6m to pounds 190m. The two cuts, which seemed to relate to the performance of Cookson's electronics side, immediately produced a clamour that the company should put out a general trading statement.

NatWest, which met Cookson before adjusting its figures, had left the shares 7p lower at 237p with its downgrade. Hoare Govett's intervention clipped them another 10.5p to 226.5p, lowest for more than a year. Cookson, however, remained relaxed about it all, dismissing calls it should produce a trading update. The Cookson camp said it was unaware of any Stock Exchange unease and maintained the Exchange was happy with the situation.

After Wednesday's interest rate surprise the market buckled down to, in football jargon, grinding out a result and Footsie ended 15.2 points higher at 3,979.1. However, emphasising in cold figures it was entirely a blue-chip display, the supporting indices gave ground. Today's US payroll statistics, famous for spooking the market, kept the lid on enthusiasm.

Utilities again attracted support with the high-yielders said to be encouraging income funds. National Power and PowerGen led the charge. It was claimed buyers were front-running an expected UBS buy circular. NP gained 13.5p to 407p and PG 18p to 510p. Waters were also firmer.

Asda, the superstores chain, was the best-performing blue chip, up 4.5p to 117.5p, on evidence it was continuing to increase its market share. Watson & Philip, the convenience shops group, fell 13.5p to 392.5p. The shares have slipped 74p since Monday's cautious trading statement.

Communication shares were again active, ahead of today's relaxation of ownership rules. Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television, where a move to the Crest computerised trading settlement system is near, found another high, up 25p at 1,267.5p. Grampian, another obvious target, improved 27.5p to 327.5p. Others higher included Border and HTV.

Cowie, the transport group, was caught by the referral of its British Bus takeover to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, falling 6p to 359p after 338p. Manchester Utd's poor run took its toll, clipping the shares 19p to 514p. Blacks Leisure, ahead of figures, added 8.5p to 293.5p.

Newcomers had a mixed reception. Jardinerie, the interior plants group, displayed a few green shoots, growing to 125p from its 114p placing; Mondas, the computer group placed at 75p, closed at 90.5p. Deep Sea Leisure, placed at 160p and seemingly offering little information about itself, suffered a 2.5p fall from its 160p placing.

Builders were undermined by the interest rate increase and BAA, the airports group, fell 9.5p to 497.5p on worries about any windfall tax an incoming Labour government might produce.

Memory Corporation, repairing defective computer chips, rallied 11.5p to 66.5p. The shares nudged 480p last year.

The company has signed an licensing agreement with an as yet unidentified US group. With the price of computer chips moving slowly off their low MC could, say its fans, be over the worst.

Magnum Power, providing uninterrupted power for computers, fell 2p to 25.5p despite support from long-standing backer Henry Cooke Lumsden. The stockbroker believes the company, which is raising pounds 3.4m through a placing at 20p a share, could make profits of pounds 300,000 in 1998 and the shares represent a recovery buy.

Wace, the printer, slumped 65p to 69.5p after its third profit warning this year. Wellman, the engineer, fell a further 6.5p to 29.5p following its trading statement on Wednesday which had already cut the shares 13.5p. Among the biotechs ML Laboratory, weak lately despite bullish circulars, put on 18.5p to 274p and Scotia rose 34p to 610p as Capital, the US investment group, nudged its shareholding higher to 5.48 per cent.

Verity, with its wafer-thin sound reproduction system, continued to win support, gaining a further 1p to a 42.5p peak.

Vardon, the leisure group running the Sea Life centres, has the support of stockbroker Charles Stanley which is looking for profits of pounds 11.2m this year, with pounds 18.3m pencilled in for 1998. The shares were little changed at 88.5p.

TAKING STOCK

Eurovein, the filtration equipment maker, continues to suffer from profit warnings following its flotation at 141p a share.

Although there are fears of a cash call the company, at 62.5p, is struggling out of its gloom and stockbroker Albert E Sharp expects profits of pounds 2m this year and pounds 2.2m next year.

New Guernsey Securities Trust, the obscure operation chosen by Andrew Regan as his new stock market vehicle, jumped 40p to 435p, a near-100p gain in two days. The shares are an exceedingly thin market. Mr Regan never quite lived up to expectations with his Hobsons food vehicle, sold to Hillsdown Holdings. He and associates are paying 203p a share for 70 per cent. NGST is to be renamed Lancia for the Regan build-up.

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