Downgrading by analysts puts the bite on Unilever

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
An Anglo Dutch securities house took a bite out of Unilever, the Anglo Dutch detergents to foods giant.

ABN Amro Hoare Govett cut its profit forecasts and downgraded its share recommendation to hold.

In 1994, Unilever, hit by its Persil Power washing powder fiasco, produced profits of pounds 2.38bn. Hoare Govett has cut its forecast for last year from pounds 2.56bn to pounds 2.5bn and this year's estimate from pounds 2.83bn to pounds 2.79bn. The reductions stems from the deteriorating economic climate in Germany.

Unilever fell 25p to 1,317p. Other food producers were under pressure with United Biscuits, unsettled by a lower-than-expected price for its Keebler frozen food business and rumours of a downgrading, crumbling 16p to 254p.

MAI, the media and money broking group, was another under the analytical whip. NatWest Securities moved from hold to buy, suggesting it should sell its money broking side and its other financial operations and buy television production capacity.

It adds : "If such a route is followed massive value will be created for shareholders and the individual businesses will flourish." But failure to act will provide "scope for a third party to realise the value. Either way there is scope for substantial share price upside." The shares rose 5.5p to 330p.

The rest of the stock market remained under the Wall Street whip. But with the Dow Jones Average recovering, at least during London hours, a 26.2-points FT-SE 100 index fall was reduced to 16.6 at the close.

Although shares have fallen for three days many observers said they were encouraged by the way the market had limited the damage.

Footsie's decline, from its peak, has been contained to 65.7 points in often busy trading. "True there has been some selling, but people are shopping for what they hope are bargains," said one trader.

Turnover, for the third consecutive session, topped 800 million indicating that whatever the direction of shares the market was operating comfortably above its break-even level.

Forte was again heavily traded with Seaq putting turnover at 40.5 million; the price rose 8.5p to 368.5p and Granada put on 11p to 664p.

Ladbroke, the betting and hotel group, was dragged back into the spotlight, scoring the best blue chip gain with a 4p advance to 152p. It is seen as a likely recipient of leisure cash once the Forte/Granada confrontation is over. Some are prepared to bet it will soon be engulfed in bid action. But Bass, the brewer, for long regarded as the most likely bidder seems to have lost some of its ardour, prompting some to pull Scottish & Newcastle into the frame.

P&O expressed relief that Eurotunnel was soldiering on, gaining 12p to 487p. Trafalgar House added 1.25p to 30p on the proposed sale of its housebuilding division to Persimmon, down 10p at 199p.

House of Fraser, the department stores chain, continued to defy gravity, gaining 5p to 173p (after 175p.).

The shares fell to 163p when it produced another profit warning on Tuesday. The market remains convinced management changes are on the way and the group looms vulnerable to a strike. Storehouse's trading statement sent the shares reeling 20.5p to 300.5p.

Close Brothers, the merchant bank embracing small companies market-maker Winterfood Securities, attracted interest. The shares gained 7p to 335p with some suggesting an intriguing deal was in the offing.

Rexam, the troubled paper and packaging group, fell 12p to 366p following the management changes. The troubles of the packaging industry have forced the group to make two profit warnings in the past six months. The pending arrival of Jeremy Lancaster as chairman and Rolf Borjesson as chief executive could herald widespread changes at the group, which still looks vulnerable.

Lonrho's proposed demerger pushed the shares 5.5p higher to 192.5p, but profit-takers moved into Airtours, off 5p at 413p.

ML Laboratories, ahead of what are expected to be encouraging developments later this month, rose 6p to 360p.

McDonnell Information Systems gained 9p to 59p following the arrival of Geac,a Canadian group, with 3.79 per cent of the beleaguered computer group; MAID was little changed at 204p as further US selling became apparent. Allied Colloids fell 7p to 126p and shopfitter Campbell & Armstrong lost its 4p gain to end at 16p on the increased Highland Electronic shareholding.

TAKING STOCK

r Southend Properties edged forward another 1p to 47p as rumours strengthened that properties worth pounds 25m are likely to be reversed into the group. Any deal would need the say-so of Malcolm Dagul, the chairman who has nearly 20 per cent. Southend has assets of around 90p a share and it is said the deal will price its shares at 72p. The move is also likely to lead to new management being drafted in.

r Costain, the struggling construction group, held at 74p as Arab interests increased their grip. Raymond International picked up nearly 5 million shares, lifting its stake to 18.06 per cent. Mohamed Abdulmohsin Kharafi & Sons, Kuwait's biggest contractor, has 13.1 per cent. The two Middle Eastern groups have been buying Costain shares for 18 months.

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