LucasVarity leads blue-chip charge on payout pledge

MARKET REPORT

LucasVarity, the result of the pounds 3.2bn merger between Lucas Industries and the US Varity Corporation, led blue chips higher after calming fears it could be forced into cutting its dividend.

Since last summer's get-together the group has been the subject of painful restructuring convulsions with many top executives departing. The reshaping made the stock market restless and rumours of profit shortfalls and dividend cuts went the rounds.

The shares, riding at a confident 259p in the autumn, crashed to 205.5p before yesterday's confident presentation lifted the veil of uncertainty and the price to 220p.

In an upbeat performance the aerospace and vehicle parts group said it intended to pay a 2.1p dividend for the year ending this week and suggested profit forecasts of pounds 280m were a "realistic assessment". The company added it was unlikely to consider a dividend cut without launching a share buy-back and would seek the views of large shareholders before making a decision.

LV also demonstrated it was on course for cost savings of around pounds 120m a year.

The group's comeback coincided with a remarkable stock market U-turn. At one time Footsie was down 20.7 points; then it became apparent New York had got the bit between its teeth and buoyed by encouraging trading statements and employment data the Dow Jones Average put on a rampant display, notching a 100-point gain during London trading.

Turning on a sixpence, Footsie jumped 25.4 points to 4,237.4, re-awakening last week's bubbling hopes that blue chips were set for a joyous run. A satisfactory pounds 2.5bn gilts auction also helped sentiment. The supporting FTSE 250 index could not match the Footsie revival. As so often happens the blue-chip comeback took time to filter through and although off its low it ended with a 10.4 fall to 4,582.7.

Building and related shares were again firm and food retailers shrugged off much of Monday's price-cutting gloom.

Cazenove support lifted RMC 37p to 973.5p with Redland gaining 18.5p to 356p in sympathy.

Tate & Lyle tumbled 13p to 428.5p as analysts downgraded profit expectations with NatWest Securities cutting for the second time within a week. The investment house is looking for pounds 250m in the year that ends in September. A little while ago it was on pounds 300m. Last year Tate produced pounds 270.4m.

Behind the market's unease is the fall in prices of high fructose corn syrup, a key ingredient in foods and soft drinks. It has occurred at a time the sugar group is re-negotiating its important contracts with leading US soft drink makers.

Stagecoach, following the Government's clamp on its Scottish train ambitions, had to contend with a foreshadowed share sale. Through a UBS tender the former Porterbrook Leasing shareholders plan to sell 14.6 per cent of Stagecoach which acquired Porterbrook last year. Stagecoach shares retreated 21.5p to 778p.

Rolls-Royce fell 3.5p to 240.5p on worries it may have to pay compensation to airlines because of problems with some of its RB211 engines.

Wessex Water held at 383.5p with Merrill Lynch talking of a 450p target. Railtrack reversed 9.5p to 371.5p as Barclays de Zoete Wedd moved its stance from buy to hold.

Hanson fell 2p to 92.5p. NatWest crossed 22 million shares at about 91p and the Energy demerger was fixed for 24 February. US buying was behind another 10.5p gain to 463p by Rentokil Initial.

Capital Corporation, the casino group, romped 32p higher to 198p as it became clear a bidder lurked and hopes of a strike at Kenwood, the kitchen appliance group, cushioned disappointment over a profits warning. The shares, at one time down 60p, ended 22p off at 164p.

Fund managers again anticipated a Dresdner Bank strike with M&G up 69p to 1,332.5p. Mercury Asset Management and Henderson Administration made further headway.

Wickes, the do-it-yourself chain, gained 6p to 170p after a 97.5 per cent rights take-up.

Chelsea Village rose 6p to 129.5p; club captain Dennis Wise is taking up around 42,000 shares.

Hogg Robinson, the business support group, tumbled 84p to 207p on a profit warning, unsettling NFC, off 9.5p to 167p.

Great Portland underlined the property revival with a pounds 97m cash call, pushing its shared 7p lower to 208.5p.

Grosvenor Inns bounced off its low, gaining 15p to 183.5p with interim results due soon. Electronic Retailing Systems enjoyed another run, up 32.5p to 355p.

Taking Stock

There is talk of a textile get together. Dewhirst, the clothing group which lifted profits from pounds 4.1m in 1992 to pounds 22.3m last year, is said to be looking at a merger with the larger Courtaulds Textiles, spun off from the Courtaulds chemical group seven years ago. CT shares rose 4p to 255.5p, against 426p a year ago, and Dewhirst was little changed at 175p.

Syence Skin Care fell 15p to 25p on Ofex as doubt was cast on the qualities of its "miracle" skin cream. It was claimed that the cream, which costs pounds 75 for 50ml, may be no more effective than cheaper products.

rPanmure Gordon rate shares of plant hire group Hewden-Stuart, forecasting lower profits of pounds 29.2m this year, pounds 36.3m next and then pounds 45.5m. The shares are 142p.

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