Glaxo Wellcome casts an eye over the biotech babes

MARKET REPORT

Glaxo Wellcome, the drugs giant with a pounds 28.3bn capitalisation, could be thinking of descending on some of the high flying bio babes.

That was the stock market gossip as Glaxo shares continued to suffer from the admission it needs more deals to maintain its drugs momentum.

Earlier this month, when producing bumper results, the group demonstrated just how much it needed last year's pounds 9bn Wellcome acquisition. With its lucrative ulcer drug, Zantac, coming under intense pressure and the Retrovir Aids treatment attracting mounting criticism, the need for more drugs is becoming increasingly pressing.

It was the market's appreciation of this which encouraged speculation it could mount a bid for Zeneca. But the Zeneca story has faded; its shares fell 19p to 1,343p and look set to drift below 1,300p.

Tucked away among the bio babes are some significant treatments whose progress would be accelerated by Glaxo's undoubted muscle.

It is thought to be on the verge of announcing a tie-up with ML Laboratories, involving its Aids and cancer treatments. But the suspicion is growing Glaxo may not be content with a trading pact; it could attempt to swallow ML, one of the oldest and certainly one of the more lusty of the new wave of bio companies.

It arrived on the now defunct Third Market nine years ago and has enjoyed a number of successes including kidney and asthma treatments.

The group, controlled by Kevin Leech, would not come cheaply. With its shares 16.5p higher at 420p it is valued at more than pounds 600m.

Another to attract Glaxo, off 3p at 805p, is British Biotech; at 2,295p worth pounds 1.3bn.

The rest of the market had another lacklustre session with the FT-SE 100 index off 7.6 points at 3,685.4; the supporting index, measuring 250 shares, stretched to a new peak, up 8 points at 4,282.2.

The report, in the Independent, that Bass had squeezed out Whitbread and was in talks to buy the Carlsberg Tetley brewing group, came as welcome relief to Allied Domecq.

The shares have been under pressure on profit and dividend worries. But the prospects of a deal over C-T, where Allied has a half share, lifted the shares 6p to 497p.

Bass, with Goldman Sachs saying buy, gained 6p to 749p. Whitbread fell 9p to 693p. Regent Inns, seen as a takeover target for one of the big brewers, jumped 31p to a 995p peak.

Guinness, figures today, rose 9p to 472p; Grand Metropolitan shaded to 429p following the latest BSE developments. Electrophoretics, developing a method of detecting early signs of BSE, improved 15p to 135p.

BT fell 7.5p to 344.5p on the latest Oftel onslaught which is likely to increase pressure for a merger with Cable and Wireless, up 8p to 491p.

National Westminster Bank, reported to be near to buying Clerical & Medical for pounds 800m, gained 4p to 638p.

Austin Reed, the clothing retailer, moved ahead 15p to 232p as Moss Bros, unchanged at 705p, joined the list of rumoured bidders.

Babcock International, the engineer, dropped 10p to 129p with NatWest Securities cutting its forecasts. The investment house is thought to be suggesting a loss for the year ending this month and cut the following year's forecast from pounds 25m to pounds 18.7m.

United Energy firmed 2p to 15p as it confirmed a pounds 1.34m settlement of its US legal claim, worth 3.5p a share. Gearing is reduced from 76 per cent to below 50 per cent.

Ramco, one of the oil groups with interests in the former Soviet Union, was up 52p at one time, settling for a 20p gain to 565p. Suggestions it was interested in a new pipeline, later denied, sparked the surge.

On Demand Information spurted 21p to 218p on a deal with Netscape but Telspec crashed 117p to 693p as figures came in well below expectations.

MAID, another information group, improved 330p to 226p. It has 15 per cent of Easynet which starts trading on AIM tomorrow.

Symonds Engineering, suspended at 61p, is paying pounds 11.2m for a printing board maker.

Ingham, facing a reverse takeover from recovery specialists Knox D'Arcy, was suspended at 35p.

Torex returned from a 31p suspension at 40p. Trading in the plant hire group was halted for the pounds 4.8m take over of an electronic point-of-sale specialist.

Carlisle, a property shell run by the ubiquitous Nigel Wray, added 2.5p to 21p on whispers the long suspected reverse takeover is near.

TAKING STOCK

o Hotspur, the investment trust where a revamp is underway, has attracted the attention of David Williams, head of Mosaic Investments. His family company, Ringwood Investments, has agreed to take a 1.2 per cent stake at 600p a share. Hotspur shares were unchanged at 688p.

o Friendly Hotels held at 146p. There has been small, but persistent interest with rumours of US developments. Friendly is run by the veteran hotelier Henry Edwards - and is the third quoted hotel operation he has developed.

o Fulmar, a high tech commercial printer, is likely to make a strong start to quoted life today. The shares were placed at 154p, raising pounds 12.3m; a premium of up to 30p is expected in first time dealing.

DATA BANK

FT-SE 100 3685.4 -7.6

FT-SE 250 4282.2 +8

FT-SE 350 1854 -2.2

SEAQ VOLUME 703.1m shares, 38,358 bargains

Gilts Index 92.45 +0.36

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