Helicon shares soar in early trading

First-day dealings in Helicon Publishing Group's shares yesterday saw the price register an 8 per cent premium at one stage, buoyed by Microsoft's 20 per cent stake in the company. The share price, which hit a peak of 135p in mid-morning trading, eased towards the close and settled at 126.5p - a 1.5p gain over the 125p placing price.

Dealers said plenty of investors were trying to buy into the Oxford- based publishing company yesterday. "Microsoft being a major shareholder gives a big seal of approval. There's been a lot of interest in Helicon, with mainly private client buying," said Stephen Roberts, a trader at Winterflood Securities.

Microsoft acquired a 40 per cent stake in 1996 through a private placing to raise pounds 1.2m for Helicon. Although Microsoft sold none of its shares, its stake was diluted to 20 per cent in the listing, due to Helicon placing 41.2 per cent of new equity on the market.

Helicon has a contract to provide Microsoft with history and current affairs data. It licenses this data to Microsoft, which puts the information on its own computer systems. Helicon'sother customers include Compuserve and America Online.

The company publishes a range of titles, including encyclopedias, geography, languages and computing.