Investors continue to hang up on BT as worries grow

MARKET REPORT

Investors are continuing to hang up on BT, the Government's biggest privatisation adventure. The shares fell a further 4.5p to 343.5p, lowest for three years.

The telecoms giant has been under increasing pressure in the past three months, with the share price collapsing from a year's high of 414p, as many small shareholders decided to snatch their profits before they disappeared.

BT's increasingly rough relationship with the industry regulator is worrying the group, as is the growing competition. There is a feeling it is beginning to look like a staid old giant, tormented by many of the industry's smaller players.

With BT's margins under pressure and the stock market's profit forecasts looking less positive there is plenty of room for disenchantment.

The nagging suspicion that BT could indulge in what might be an unpopular take over spree is also taking its toll. Cable and Wireless, still reeling from the boardroom upheaval, is rumoured to be one possible target. Another idea is it will buy Cable's controlling stake in Hong Kong Telecom. Cable, up 5p at 446p, has pulled in ABN Amro Hoare Govett as joint broker with Cazenove - which could indicate that it suspects a bid is in the offing.

A BT move for the outstanding shares in Cellnet, the mobile telephone group, would - of the possible deals being talked about - be the most popular. But Whitehall could decide to block BT dialling for full control.

BT is not, however, the only privatisation share feeling the pinch as the stock market trades near its highest level.

British Gas, another under regulatory pressure, was down 1p at 227.5p, perilously near its year's low. The group is beset by its deep-rooted image problems as well as the ramifications of its long term gas contracts.

And just to underline what a poor day it was for privatisation shares Rolls-Royce fell 2p to its 175p sale price while British Steel retreated another 3.5p to 158p compared with a 125p flotation. Rolls, in early trade, touched 180p on talk of BMW share buying; British Steel continued to feel the impact of the profit warning by the Usinor steel giant.

Blue chips remained under the influence of lower interest rate hopes but an uncertain New York display eroded gains. The death of Sir David Lightbown MP, cutting the Government's majority to five, could further unsettle the market today.

WPP, the advertising group, edged ahead 1p to 152p. Martin Sorrell, who has made investment presentations in Scotland this week, purchased 100,000 shares at 150p and now has 2.5 million shares, representing 0.34 per cent.

National Grid edged forward to 211p and British Aerospace staged a modest revival, up 11p at 788p.

Oils flared on the firming crude price; British Petroleum added 8p to 533.5p and Enterprise Oil achieved the distinction of the best blue-chip gain, up 10p at 365p.

The Camelot contingent felt the blast of Panorama. Cadbury Schweppes slipped 2.5p to 548.5, De La Rue 9p to 660p and Racal Electronics 9p to 268p. Whispers of a Swiss bid lifted Rexam 9p to 337p but Vickers, where some have talked confidently of take over action, fell 8p to 274p.

BTG, the old British Technology Group, had an eventful run, following its trading statement and dividend forecast. The shares surged 200p to 1,120p. The shares were floated at 225p in the summer. Alba, the consumer electrical group, gained 15p to 282p following its investment dinner; Cray Electronics was little changed at 47.5p after its pounds 14.6m loss.

Waste Management International tumbled 23p to 323p on the profits warning but take over action lifted Goal Petroleum, in talks, 21p to 89p. BMSS rose 32p to 150p following an agreed pounds 14m offer from Travis Perkins.

AMEC stuck at 100p as hostile bidder Kvaerner lifted its holding to 22.55 per cent.

Wassall, the conglomerate, improved 6p to 245p after a positive meeting with Henderson Crosthwaite. Burton eased 2p to 128p as Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull said the shares were expensive.

Sims, the food group, fell 3p to 35p on the continuing BSE uncertainty. There is, however, vague talk of bid action. Whitchurch - a meat products group headed by Barry Cox, ex-Hard Rock Cafe - is said to be contemplating a strike.

Sims has been having a lean time and looks vulnerable. Profits have been hit and in the first half of its current year it produced pounds 150,000 against pounds 1.2m. Three years ago the shares hit 339p.

DATA BANK

FT-SE 100 3,654.9 +2.8

FT-SE 250 3,933.5 -3.4

FT-SE 350 1,808.6 +0.7

SEAQ VOLUME 707.9m shares, 27,898 bargains

Gilts Index 95.89 +0.03

TAKING STOCK

r United Energy, the oil tiddler, held at 11p. It has been reshaped and Peel Hunt, the stockbroker, expects year's profits to emerge at pounds 100,000 against a pounds 360,000 loss and estimates asset value at 17p. The group's interests are mainly in the US where it is seeking to add to its operations. It has its eye on moving into power generation in this country.

r Dealings are due to start on AIM next week in the shares of Polymasc, a fledgling biotech operation, hived off from the Royal Free Hospital medical school in Hampstead. Teather & Greenwood, the stockbroker, has placed shares at 100p, raising pounds 5m and pricing the company at pounds 20m. In the current highly charged biotech atmosphere they could enjoy a heady romp in early trading.

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