Late runs from takeover favourites come to the rescue

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If a few old takeover favourites had not come to the rescue the stock market would have presented a sorry sight.

For much of the session it seemed National Grid would, in effect, sum up the display. Regarded as the most boring constituent of the FT-SE 100 index it seemed set to enjoy the distinction of being the best performing blue chip.

It lost out towards the close as sellers chipped at its modest gain and tired old takeover candidates, like Ladbroke and Zeneca, made late runs.

Ladbroke has rarely escaped the bid frame in the past six months and there seems little doubt that a deal is near. Whether it will be a full blown bid is unclear.

At one time Bass was the favourite to strike; then Scottish & Newcastle was dragged into the speculation. It may have been pure coincidence that the latest Ladbroke spurt was accompanied by rumours of a big rights issue with Bass and Scottish among the candidates.

In late trading Ladbroke ticked up 4p to 198p with one deal going through at 199.5p. The shares closed at 196.5p.

Ladbroke's late run continued a pattern which has been established for some months. During much of the session the shares do little but in the final hour or so come to life. The inference, of course, is US buying and it is significant that a deal with the American Hilton Hotels Corporation has emerged as the most likely development.

Ladbroke runs the international Hilton spread; HHC the US hotels. Uniting the two chains has obvious administration and marketing benefits. But there must be some doubt whether such an alliance would be created by HHC bidding for Ladbroke.

One solution could be Ladbroke exchanging its hotels for a large stake in HHC and retaining its betting operations.

Zeneca gained 33p to 1,390p, nursing hopes of takeover action with Roche, the Swiss giant squeezed out of its country's big drug alliance and anxious to expand, the rumoured predator.

Footsie ended 19.7 points down at 3,833.0. Even the supporting FT-SE 250 index ran out of steam. After achieving nine consecutive highs it ended 4 points down at 4,540.1. The downbeat CBI survey and the failure of rumoured bids to emerge were inhibiting influences.

Volume was high, topping one billion shares. Rentokil's raid on BET, collecting 6.8 per cent, was a significant factor; so was heady trading in little Lionheart, a houseware group being reshaped with an open offer and placing raising pounds 4.5m; pounds 4m coming from the sale of its brushes side and Mark Flatman recruited as chief executive from Courtaulds Textiles.

Seaq put turnover at 188 million with one sad little trade going through for the sale of 510 shares at 0.75p. "It must have been a tidying up deal", said one stockbroker. The shares fell 0.75p to 1p.

Pentland, the sportswear group, ran ahead 6p to 112p in brisk trading as word went round it was likely to announce Olympic games sponsorships and tie-ups.

Micro Focus continued its retreat, off 118p at 1,025p, following the failure of the expected bid to appear. But Meyer International, the timber group, jumped 26p to 460p on talk of a bid from Wolseley, off 11p at 464p.

Pelican, the restaurant chain opening its 100th outlet this week, was unchanged at 140p although Whitbread is said to have had a 180p a share offer rejected. Alvis added 2p to 171p on GKN bid hopes.

Wickes, the building materials retailer, shaded to 140p. Mees Pierson, the stockbroker, reports trading has improved since March.

Amersham International jumped 26p to 1,031p as Richard Lapthorne, finance director of British Aerospace, was confirmed as the next chairman.

The decimation of Babcock International's order book by the row between Saudi Arabia and the Government hit the shares 15.5p to 113p. Others with Saudi involvements suffered with BAe off 14p at 864p and Rolls-Royce, despite a successful US analysts visit, 2p to 238.5p.

Mayflower Corporation, the automotive design to bus making group, advanced 4.5p to 112.5p in response to recent analysts visits to its Walter Alexander bus subsidiary.

Industrial Control Services rose 11p to 115p following an pounds 11.4m rights issue at 90p on a one-for-three ratio. The cash goes towards funding its order book running at twice last year's level.

Cafe Inns gained 13p to a 183p peak on its swing from tenanted to managed pubs.


Heading for Ofex is a company created by nine former executives of Inmos, the old Government chip maker. They lived off their redundancy for 11 months and with help from Inmos and grants and loans established Motion Media, which created a video telephone add-in card for IBM compatible computers and has now developed a stand-alone video telephone. Around 1.7 million shares are being sold at 67.5p, raising pounds 1m. Dealings should start within a month. Hawthorne Securities are stockbrokers.

Benfield & Rea, an investment trust investing in Lloyds trusts, held at 110p. There is talk of a bid from a Bahamas group. B&R is run by Benfield Group, the vehicle of Matthew Harding of Chelsea Football Club fame, and merchant banker Rea Brothers.