GEC tizzy prompts thoughts of Weinstock's successor

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
General Electric Co managed to get the stock market in a rare old tizzy. It was the heaviest traded blue chip - Seaq put volume at approaching 23 million shares with the price improving 3p to 316p.

The heavy trading surprised many, and the sudden outbreak of interest prompted thoughts that the group's long, tortuous succession procedure was at last nearing a conclusion.

Lord Weinstock, 72 next summer, has let it be known he intends to step down as managing director of the group he created through a series of spectacular takeovers in the 1960s and has subsequently ruled with an iron hand.

There has, according to the City grapevine, been a furious in-house battle over his successor. The main area of debate has been whether an outsider should be recruited or smooth succession guaranteed by promotion from within.

The stock market would applaud a non-GEC appointment. After all, the group has a pounds 2bn-plus cash hoard and, it is suspected, a veritable treasure trove of under-performing assets. A break-up exercise is, therefore, a possibility.

There is always the possibility that Lord Weinstock will exhaust the cash mountain by indulging in a mega-takeover before he reluctantly departs. A strike for British Aerospace, for example, would eliminate cash resources and need the back-up of a share exchange.

Among the possible candidates for replacing Lord Weinstock are Sir Christopher Hogg, chairman of Courtaulds; Peter Levene, former procurement chief at the Ministry of Defence, and George Simpson, the ex-BAe man who now runs Lucas Industries.

The stock market, fuelled by continuing bid speculation, was again in form with the FT-SE 100 index gaining 14.7 points to 3,537.1.

Firm displays by government stocks, helped by the Bank of England's inflation outlook, and New York contributed to the enthusiasm.

Utilities again dominated the takeover turmoil. Not surprisingly, Welsh Water felt obliged to admit to more than a passing interest in its electricity counterpart, South Wales Electricity. It said it was considering a possible pounds 950m offer, around 1,020p a share. Swalec urged caution and its shares surged 70p to 1,058p while the would-be water predator eased 30p to 724p.

Other water shares, buoyed by the Government's clearance for a bid for Northumbrian Water, were strong with, for example, Thames Water up 19p to 555p. Among regional electricity companies, Yorkshire, put on 30p to 954p.

The company's continued independence is a testimony to the market's undoubted ability to get its wires crossed. Since the takeover currents started to flow through the Recs nearly a year ago, Yorkshire has been regarded as a surefire bid candidate. Such vision will ultimately be realised, but so far Yorkshire has displayed an infuriating reluctance to fall in with market sentiment.

Cadbury Schweppes, the confectionery and soft drink group, had an intriguing session with the inevitable take-over stories (Unilever or Nestle) going the rounds. There appeared to be keen US buying, which could indicate strong trading at Cadbury's Dr Pepper offshoot. Another theory was that Cadbury had at last decided to put United Biscuits out of its seeming perennial misery and mount a rescue takeover. Cadbury rose 16p to 544p and UB 6p to 267p.

GKN, ahead of an investment dinner at London's Savoy Hotel, added 4p to 805p. Henderson Crosthwaite, hosting the event, expects profits of pounds 305m this year.

TSB, the banking group clambering into bed with Lloyds Bank, remained in demand, up 4p to 400p. Lloyds fell 2p to 814p.

RTZ, the mining giant, improved 11p to 916p following a presentation and Dixons, the electrical retailer, managed a 5.5p gain to 399p after meeting analysts.

Guinness continued to suffer a presentation hangover, falling 3.5p to 485.5p. SBC Warburg reckons the target price is 460p.

Glaxo Wellcome was another in the dumps following a presentation, off 12p at 875p; Arjo Wiggins Appleton and David S Smith reflected mounting problems in the paper industry.

Eurocopy, the office equipment group, tumbled 6p to 77p as it admitted bid talks were off and Ex-Lands shaded to 25p after confirming plans to split its leisure and property operations into separate quoted companies.

Benson Crisps, which has felt fierce competition from the snack food giants, added 4p to 22p on talk it went round it was experiencing better trading.

TAKING STOCK

r After the recent flood, the flow of companies to AIM has settled to a gentle trickle. Due to arrive today is David Glass, a firm of managing agents with ll,000 leasehold properties.

Profits are expected to be pounds 550,000 this year, putting the shares, at their 60p placing price, on 8.5 times prospective earnings and a 6 per cent yield.

r Northamber, the computer hardware and software distributor, traded around its peak at 252p. Trading is known to be going well and interim figures later this month will prompt heady forecast revisions, perhaps approaching pounds 6m. Last year profits were pounds 3.1m.

There is also the possibility of takeover action. The chairman, David Phillips, has 51 per cent and could be prepared to sell.

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