Footsie cheered as NatWest predicts 4,600 next year

MARKET REPORT

Shares just managed to hang on to their festive cheer with Footsie climbing to a closing high, up 9.6 points to 4,087.2.

It was, however, a typical pre-Christmas trading session with volume low and many offices content to operate with just a token workforce.

Still the undertone remained firm. With the first of the new year tips dribbling into the stock market and NatWest Securities taking a positive view, hopes are high that further progress will be made over the holiday period.

NatWest has emerged as strong bulls. Strategists Bob Semple and David McBain expect Footsie to end next year at 4,600 points. And for 1998 the target is 4,800.

They believe the cheer will emerge in the second six months and say: "The tactic for the first half of 1997 will be to buy into weakness for the second-half run."

Shares, it is argued, are well supported by strong GDP growth which will feed through into a continued robust performance on earnings and dividends.

"A tough fiscal and monetary stance by the new Labour government will bring inflation back below 3 per cent and provide a spur to the gilt market," they say.

It will not be an easy ride with shares likely to come under pressure in what could be a turbulent first six months. But institutions are cash rich and there is "a of money on the sidelines ready to push Footsie up to around 4,600 by the year end".

The NatWest duo appear to be at the top of the range with the median forecast currently resting a little over 4,200.

In the relaxed atmosphere the occasional takeover story gathered support.

Yorkshire Electricity enjoyed a modest surge, gaining 26p to 798.5p.

If, as seems likely, Northern Electric fails to hold off the might of the CE Electric bid, Yorkshire and Southern Electric will be the last survivors of the dozen regional electricity companies which were privatised six years ago.

Yorkshire has been the subject of intense speculation in the past two years. Early this year its shares soared to 898p with many convinced bids were on the table. But Yorkshire maintains it never received an approach. As Yorkshire shares sparked the other survivor was in a closed circuit, unchanged at 778.5p.

OGC International, an oil services group riding at 251p in the spring, was the day's bid victim, receiving an approach "which may or may not lead to an offer". Last week Clyde Petroleum was the target of a hostile pounds 432m bid from Gulf Canada.

Halliburton, a US services group, has approached OGC through its Brown & Root off-shoot.

The US group is involved with Cairn Energy in developing the big Sangu gas field in Bangladesh.

Halliburton is meeting half the development costs in exchange for a 25 per cent equity interest in the field.

OGC jumped 41p to 116p and Cairn moved ahead 5.5p to a 416.5p peak. British- Borneo rose 16.5p to 759p and Lasmo 3p to 237p.

Little Emerald Energy added 0.5p to 3.25p after announcing the start of a seismic programme in Colombia.

British Gas gained 6p to 227.5p. It has renegotiated another "take or pay" North Sea deal - this time with Mobil.

As part of the settlement, British Gas is handing some North Sea assets to Mobil.

Brake Bros, the convenience food group, was the day's big loser, off 180.5p to 576p. Profits are likely to come out at pounds 24m against hopes of pounds 29m and last year's pounds 27.1m. Problems at its Puritan Maid off-shoot did the damage.

Matthew Clark, the cider and wine group, gained 6p to 262.5p as Bass was put forward as a possible bidder and Majestic Wine, floated last month at 160p, attracted a touch of seasonal cheer, bubbling 17p higher to 254.5p.

Allied Domecq recovered 14.5p to 439.5p with market maker Lehman Brothers said to be short of stock.

Lehman also declared a surprisingly high 13.5 per cent holding in Acorn Computer, little changed at 195p.

Hanover International, the hotel group, climbed 12p to 129.5p as Albert E Sharp's fund management arm took its stake to 3.54 per cent.

Guinness Peat, the financial group which built a stake in garage business Gowrings and attempted a bid, continues to develop a taste for Young & Co, the family-controlled Wandsworth brewery. It has lifted its interest in the non-voting shares to 11.35 per cent. The price held at 620p.

Caspian, which owns Leeds United, rose 4p to a peak of 44.5p.

Taking Stock

David Abell, who sold the Suter mini conglomerate to Ascot Holdings in the summer, could have designs on Thomas Jourdan, the Corby trouser press group.

He has acquired a 2.8 per cent interest and family and friends account for a further 1.7 per cent. Jourdan, which returned to profit last year, rose 4p to 26.5p.

Eurovein is selling its main shot blasting business for nearly pounds 13m. It will concentrate on its industrial knives operation.

The deal leaves the company with cash worth around 70p a share. With the Villiers engineering group sitting on 15.3 per cent and looking acquisitive, Eurovein may feel obliged to quickly locate a takeover target. Its shares jumped 21.5p to 76.5p; they were floated at 141p two years ago.

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