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Hopes of a deal generate new interest in Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce, in the shape of aero engines and limousines, captured much of the stock market limelight.

In a dull, hesitant session Rolls, the maker of aero engines, pulled out of a long dive on hopes of a deal over its Parsons turbine generator operation, and Vickers, owners of the famous Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, purred forward on talk it may sell its vehicle side.

The rest of the market seemed spooked by Alan Greenspan, the US banking chief. The man who sent shivers through the world's share markets last month is due to make an important speech to the Senate budget committee today.

The fear is that he will repeat his message that share markets are overheating. After all his earlier blast had only a short-term impact. After knee-jerk jitters shares recaptured their old buoyancy and the Dow Jones Average has risen more than 400 points since Mr Greenspan's cool-it-down advice.

After a bright start Footsie and the supporting FTSE 250 fell from their peaks; Footsie lost 13.7 points to 4,194 and the 250 3.2 to 4,580.2.

Rolls, stripped of the Rolls-Royce marques when its aero engine side sent it crashing to disaster in the 1960s, climbed 6.5p to 239.5p.

It was re-floated 10 years ago and is one of the more poorly performing privatisation shares.

In November the price hit a 267.5p peak, largely on a flow of overseas orders. It has since fallen as worries have grown about the impact the strong pound could be having on earnings.

Like British Aerospace it is pressing the Government to remove a ceiling on overseas shareholdings.

Currently foreign investors are restricted to 29.5 per cent of the capital. The overseas interest in both companies is now around 26 per cent.

Vickers, with a wide range of engineering activities, moved ahead 11p to 270.5p. The Challenger tank group is, some are convinced, contemplating selling its Rolls division either through a trade sale or flotation. It could feel the time is ripe for a Roller deal; sales of Rolls and Bentleys are the highest for six years.

BT was another in form. Thoughts that the giant deal with MCI, the US group, could, if it goes through, sharply increase institutional interest lifted the shares 5.5p to 423.5p, highest since 1994.

Four profit warnings took their inevitable toll. Thorn, the rental group demerged from the EMI showbiz operation in the summer, crashed 42.5p to 209p; Kingsbury, the furniture retailer, lost 94.5p to 205p after it said profits would not meet market expectations; and a gloomy message from Saltire, once Cannon Street Investments, lowered the price 14p to 77.5p.

But the market's rage was reserved for Victrex. The plastic group fell 92.5p to 173.5p following a warning that half-year profits will be down. A week ago the company offered a robust trading statement, containing not a hint of lower profits.

Burmah Castrol, the oil group, was hit by Cazenove caution, off 25p at 1,041.5p. Merrill Lynch put a 900p target on insurer General Accident, up 6p at 828.5p.

There was a smattering of gains among computer shares with CMG leading the pack, up 70p to 1,045p.

The hard-pressed spirits sector displayed modest strength.

Allied Domecq edged ahead 3.5p to 416p; Grand Metropolitan 6p to 438.5p and Guinness 6.5p to 438.5p.

British Building & Engineering moved ahead 5.5p to 55p, a 12-month high, as Britannia, off 3p at 32.5p, said its stake is 6.89 per cent.

It was the first time that Britannia, a builder, had disclosed an interest in the hard-pressed building materials group.

BB&E could well be receptive to a bid approach. It has talked about the possibility of a strategic merger. In recent years it has undergone substantial restructuring and said in October, when announcing a pounds 2.25m loss, it had moved into profits.

In a generally firm building sector AMEC was actively traded, gaining 7p to 98.5p. Tilbury Douglas was also in demand. A 520,000-trade at 560p inspired a 45p gain.

Hay & Robertson, the sports goods group, rose 9p to 138.5p on its merchandising link with Terry Venables

Tottenham Hotspur slipped 17.5p to 672p.5p following the latest defeat and "take profits" advice.

Ronson, developing as a luxury goods group, was hit by a run of sell orders with one for nearly 80,000 shares going through at 22.25p.

The quote was lowered 3p to 23p.

Taking Stock

A rash of buy circulars on Robert H Lowe are expected. The market appears to have got wind of at least three recommendations suggesting profits will hit pounds 2.9m this year (up from pounds 2.4m) with pounds 3.4m likely next year. The company produces replica football kits for a host of top teams and its shares, up 1.25p to 28.5p, are lowly rated compared with others, from football clubs to retailers, enjoying the sports boom. The group also has packaging and printing interests.

Eidos, the entertainment software group, has linked with MGM. It has obtained the European distribution for a series of computer games, including The Ultimate James Bond. Last month the group raised pounds 22m in the US by selling 3 million shares in ADR form. The shares are 870p, up 15p.