MARKET REPORT

Financials in the spotlight

Although the Easter holiday lingered for at least one extra day in the stock market some of the more intuitive investors moved in on financials.

They accept the widely held view that more shake-ups are inevitable in an industry where sheer size and international muscle will have an increasingly important impact.

The German takeover of Jupiter Tyndall, the proposed sale of part of the Govett investment business and the abortive takeover negotiations between Morgan Stanley and SG Warburg all provide irresistible evidence that the finance industry is in line for a rampant bout of takeover action.

So, while much of the market was allowed to slumber in the Easter aftermath there was discreet interest in a number of fund management groups.

Mercury Asset Management edged forward 9p to 801p, not far from the year's high, on speculation about its continued involvement with 75 per cent shareholder Warburg.

It was the position of MAM that was a significant obstacle in the MS-Warburg deal. Since the failure of the merger talks it would be surprising if MAM and Warburg had not discussed ways of relaxing their liaison. One suggestion is Warburg plans a secondary share offer, reducing its stake below 50 per cent.

Perpetual, the fund management group created by Martyn Arbib, stretched to 1,500p, another peak, while Invesco was another at a new 1995 high, moving ahead 4p to 194p.

Ivory & Sime, the Scottish fund manager, jumped 7p to 231p. The shares have risen 28p this month. Jupiter, awaiting details of the Commerzbank strike, gained 3p to 417p and Govett, thought to be on the verge of clinching a deal with ABN Amro, the Dutch group owning the securities house Hoare Govett, was unchanged at 297p.

Medeva, the drugs group, provided one of the few centres of action, jumping 31p to 257.5p (after 264p) following confirmation of the long- running market rumour that it could well be a target for the revamped Fisons pharmaceutical group. Fisons fell 4p to 174p.

Paul Woodhouse at Smith New Court believes Fisons may have to pay around 300p a share. He sees Medeva's profits emerging at £80.3m this year and £100m next. Zeneca, displaying relief it was not involved in the Fisons/Medeva affair, gained 5p to 893p.

AAH, the chemists chain, was unchanged at 442p as the hostile German bidder GEHE picked up another 4.9 per cent, lifting its interest to 20.8 per cent. Acceptances account for a further 2 per cent.

Southern Business, the photocopier distributor, shaded to 85p as bidder Alco Standard took a 22.2 per cent stake.

Further speculation about developments in the coal industry lifted RJB Mining 10p to 416p and Coal Investments 2p to 102p.

Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the packaging and paper group. lost 5.5p to 258p. Sappi, the South African group, denied suggestions it planned a deal with AWA, where there is talk of a boardroom rift. Talk persists that St Louis, the French food group, could consider selling its 40 per cent interest - despite last month's denial of any such intention.

The generators were the day's best-performing blue chips, with comments from Warburg prompting the excitement. National Power rose 6p to 444p and PowerGen 6p to 479p. Some of the electricity companies managed a glow, with both James Capel and Kleinwort Benson making confidence noises.

Inchcape lost 4p to 313p. Mike Smith, a long-time follower of the shares who is now with Williams de Bro, regards them as a buy. In his view, the City's unhappiness with the share price over the past year has been justified by the disappointing results, compounded by a feeling of lack of communication.

He expects profits to sink from £228.4m to £195m this year but recover to £255m next year.

Hays, the business support group, fell 2p to 297p, with Smith saying the shares were up with events and should be sold.

Hanson, where Robert Fleming is said to be negative, fell 2.75p to 239p.

Nurdin & Peacock, the cash and carry group, eased to 187p on suggestions that the Dutch SHV group intended to lift its 14 per cent stake.

Bass fell 15p to 538p on the boardroom changes and Scottish & Newcastle eased 2p to 537p on the possibility of a heavy cash call if Courage is swallowed.

Whitbread, in talks over Allied Domecq's brewing division, fell 4p to 555p. Allied dipped 7p to 534p.

Albert Fisher, the food group, edged ahead 1.5p to 42p. Results are due tomorrow. NatWest Securities expects £38m, up from £34.2m.

XCL, the oil group, slumped 8p to 40p as a Chinese well was plugged and abandoned.

Orb Estates was again a leading contributor to the day's turnover. Its joint venture with Allied London has paid £1.9m for a Reading property. Turnover of more than 24 million shares was printed - although the price stuck at1p.

The tender offer for Rhino, the games retailer, gained another 1.5p to 12p. John Mansfield, the little timber group, said to be in the sights of the entrepreneurial Nigel Wray, added 0.5p to 3.75p.

The FT-SE 100 index fell 14.3 points to 3,194.5 and the FT-SE 250 index 7.6 to 3,493.2. Turnover was 4,10.8 million shares with 20,921 bargains. Government stocks were little changed.

Shareholders have displayed little enthusiasm for the rescue cash call by United Breweries, a pubs chain revamped following the takeover of Inn Business. They took up only 27.7 per cent of the 205.2 million shares on offer at 1p, with the rest going to the placees. Dealings in the shares, which were suspended in September at 6.75p, are due to resume on Friday.

Serif, a security printer with a disappointing record, attracted attention with turnover going above 3 million shares, with a clutch of deals going through at 6p. Last month the group reported losses for the year of £1.3m. There was talk that TAC Corporation was adding to its 5.3 per cent stake in the company. The shares rose 0.5p to 7.5p. Five years ago they nudged 130p.

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