Fears of competition from Internet take toll on Reed

MARKET REPORT
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Reed International, the publishing group, felt the impact of the Internet, the world-wide computer network.

Shares of the Anglo-Dutch giant tumbled 46p to 999p as Forbes, the US business magazine, drew attention to the competition many of Reed's more obscure, but lucrative, academic and business magazines could suffer from Internet competition.

The publishing setback set the tone for a lacklustre stock market session with the FT-SE 100 index ending 23.3 points lower at 3,639.5. Even New York, which has on so many occasions offered support, failed to oblige, with the Dow Jones Average showing acute signs of over-exuberance. High- tech stocks in New York were particularly hard hit with UUNET, the buyer of Unipalm, and Netscape under pressure.

Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, added to the uncertainty with his hint to one of the parliamentary select committees that he would be reluctant to go along with an interest rate cut.

HSBC, the banking giant that embraces Midland Bank, was ruffled by rumours that a Japanese institution, said to be an insurance group, was trying to place a large line of stock, possibly more than 10 million shares, in Hong Kong.

In London, HSBC shaded to 991p and Standard Chartered, as takeover hopes dwindled and more than 6 million shares hovered, lost 22p to 566p. Other banks edged lower.

British Gas was the subject of a Merrill Lynch placing of 10 million shares with stories of a further 10 million overhang adding to the discomfort. The sale, thought to be institutional, left the shares 3.5p lower at 229p. BT remained under pressure falling 6p to 346p, lowest since 1992.

The belligerent Oftel programme over prices and the seemingly ever-increasing competition to what is, in effect, a staid old player in the telecommunications business, continued to take their toll.

Inchcape's departure from Footsie again undermined shares, off a further 6p to 211p. Among other Footsie casualties Arjo Wiggins Appleton fell 7.5p to 158.5p and De La Rue 3p to 652p.

Airtours, the holidays group that has been under intense pressure on worries of a profits collapse, jumped 17p to 338p on talk the US holiday business, Carnival Cruise Lines, is hovering.

Poor figures have been signalled by Airtours which, like the rest of the packaged holiday industry, has been hit by the sharp fall in demand for overseas holidays. Around pounds 58m against pounds 75.8m is the popular guess when it reports next week. But bears of the shares are suggesting the figures could be much lower.

First Choice, the other leading quoted tour operator that Airtours failed to acquire after a fierce takeover battle, gained 6p to 62p in sympathy.

The theory is that Carnival wants to absorb a UK tour operator and is looking at Airtours, because of its growing cruise business.

T&N, the car components group, gained 10p to 130p after it settled a US asbestos claim at pounds 6.5m, much lower than expected. It had been sued for pounds 30m. But T&N's success is dwarfed by the looming pounds 185m action by Chase Manhattan Bank where a jury verdict is expected any day.

Cluff Resources, the gold miner, at last produced a bidder - Ashanti Goldfields which is prepared to offer pounds 80m in shares. It already has 26.6 per cent of its target, picking up Hutchison Whampoa's stake.

But Wensum, the clothing group that has attracted intense takeover speculation, tumbled 10p to 137p, following its denial of any merger talks.

The shares are still, however, comfortably above their year's low.

Megalomedia, the latest Saatchi vehicle, continued its remarkable progress on AIM, closing up 20p at 114p after 121p. Pet City, placed at 300p, ended at 355p.

The next AIM recruits could include Dmatek, an Israeli computer group, and CPS, a Luxembourg property services group.

Proteus, the computer-linked drugs group, demonstrated the vulnerability of the bio-babes when it said a deal involving DNA-binding drug had hit a hitch. The group still expects to produce five revenue-earning agreements by the end of its current financial year, to March. The shares displayed their unease, tumbling 23p to 126p.

Psion, the hand-held computer group, staged a modest rally, up 25p to 790p. A new market-maker in the shares, to take over from NatWest Securities, is expected to be announced next week. If Psion can produce a replacement it should avoid being relegated to the SEAT share market.

TAKING STOCK

r Flare Group, the former J Hewitt & Son, gained 12p to 116p as the stock market braced itself for bid action. The company is 27 per cent- owned by Ian Gowrie Smith (ex-Medeva and now involved in the suspended Black & Edgington) and David Lees. It is thought to be firing on all cylinders and could hit pounds 800,000 profit for the year, although there is a danger of a big tax charge eroding earnings. Deals are on the way. One has fallen down but another is near.

r SWP, making timber frame structures for houses and spiral staircases, shaded to 12p. It is raising pounds 1.1m through a rights issue underwritten by stockbroker Ellis & Partners. Alan Chamberlain, ex-Ellerman Lines, and corporate financier Stephen Barclay have joined the board.

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