Kingfisher makes a clean breast of plans for recovery

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Kingfisher, the struggling retail group that last week ended its long search for a chairman with the appointment of Sir John Banham, has decided investors should know more about its recovery plans.

This week it held an investment presentation on its Superdrug off-shoot and is due soon to subject its troubled Comet electrical chain to the same treatment.

Few companies bother with analysts' presentations if the story is all gloom and doom; consequently Kingfisher shares were busily traded with the price edging ahead to 485p. But the group is not confining its message to the UK, with talk of a US roadshow next month ahead of a December trading statement.

Sir John, former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, takes over next year. The group has been without a permanent chairman since January when Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy switched to chief executive. Four directors then departed in a boardroom shake-up.

The group's profits for the year to end January tumbled from pounds 309.3m to pounds 244.2m. Pre-tax profits for the first half of the current year were pounds 74.6m, down from pounds 88.1m with the group's B&Q do-it-yourself operation creating cause for concern.

The shares hit a 1995 high of 510p earlier this month; a long way from their 772p peak last year. At the time of the boardroom upheaval they were down to 389p.

The rest of the stock market experienced another low-volume day with the FT-SE 100 index closing just 2.5 points higher at 3,537.8.

Worries the Bank of England could suffer another government stocks auction humilation had already evaported by the time it was announced that the pounds 3bn sale was comfortably over-subscribed. But any euphoria was short- lived with New York looking jittery.

Cadbury Schweppes was subjected to one of its periodic bouts of takeover speculation. But the excitement soon petered out. Reports in Switzerland that Nestle planned a strike briefly lifted the shares 8p. They closed unchanged at 525p.

First Leisure Corporation was also in the bid frame. There was talk Rank Organisation was keen to take on FLC's management and had decided the easiest approach was to absorb the company. John Conlan, FLC's chief executive, it was argued, could emerge as Rank chief executive when the present incumbent, Michael Gifford, retires. FLC shares, firm this week, rose 18p to 346p with Rank 2p higher at 418p.

Meyer International, the timber group, also attracted bid speculation. The shares rose 15p to 355p with rumoured predator, Harrisons & Crosfield, a shade easier at 151p. On the banking pitch bid gossip continued to influence with Standard Chartered up 15p at 514p.

Asda, still engaged in a battle to cut prices of certain minerals and vitamin products, edged ahead 0.75p to 100.5p. Credit Lyonnais Laing's Paul Smiddy believes Asda and Tesco, up 2p at 305p, are the best supermarket buys. Kwik Save, little changed at 684p, is regarded as a sale.

British Gas was as unloved as its chief executive Cedric Brown following the stinging comments of industry regulator Clare Spottiswoode; the shares slumped 11p to 236.5p, lowest for three years. Turnover approached 21 million shares.

Engineer Glynwed International put on 4p to 343p as Mees Pierson contemplated lifting its forecast from pounds 86m to around pounds 90m; ASW, a steel products group, tumbled 20p to 176p with SBC Warburg slashing its profit forecast from pounds 23m to pounds 12.5m.

Glaxo Wellcome, meeting analysts in two weeks, rose 2.5p to 860p and a United News & Media presentation added 6p to 520p. Amstrad, following an analyst visit to its Danish operations, improved 7.5p to 292.5p.

Thorn EMI fell 20p to 1,494p as a large line of stock, thought to be around 2.5 million, sought a home.

Building and related shares attracted a few buyers with Wolseley recovering 20p to 396p and Barratt Developments adding 6p to 197p.

Casket, the cycle maker, advanced 0.5p to 7.5p as the bid duly materialised with EFG the predator.

Middlesex, the metals group, rose 0.75p to 9p with more than 40 million traded. Creos International, a maker of generators for medical scanners, made a bright AIM debut, touching 129p and closing at 109p. Northamber, a computer hardware and software distributor, gained another 14p to 225p.

TAKING STOCK

Unipalm, the largest UK access provider for the Internet international computer network, rose 11p to 448p, influenced by US buying. The group has accepted an offer of around 450p a share from UUNET Technologies of the US. But many speculators had expected the bid to be nearer 700p and it is not not surprising that talk of a rival offer is circulating. A Dutch telephone group is the favourite to strike.

Biocompatibles International, the medical group where US giant Johnson & Johnson has a stake, jumped 29p to 372p as the Specsavers chain, with more than 300 optical branches, said it was recommending the company's Proclear contact lens. The shares were floated at 170p a share in April.

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