Market Report: Allied Colloids the share of the day as merger rumours a bound

Mergers are being concocted in the speciality chemicals sector, according to rumours, with Allied Colloids the main focus of attention. Dealers could not get their hands on the company's shares quick enough yesterday. More than 14 million were traded, sending the price up 10.5p to 125p.

Frenetic buying and selling has continued unabated since Tuesday night. One transaction saw 1 million change hands at 118p.

And the buyer? Laporte, which said a few months ago it had pounds 450m to spend, appears to be the predatory name in the frame. Jim Leng, chief executive, has finished restructuring the company and could be looking for other activities to occupy his time. Laporte ended down 7.5p at 629p.

The chemicals sector was not the only one to feel some heat yesterday. Fund managers saw some action following the Merrill Lynch pounds 3.1bn takeover of Mercury Asset Management. MAM jumped 380p to pounds 16.75 and pushed other banking stocks higher. Schroders was the biggest Footsie riser, up 140p to pounds 18.15. Of the second-liners, Perpetual, up 240p to pounds 24.75, and M&G, up 160p to pounds 13.35, were in favour. Henderson joined in the action as well, firming 167.5p to pounds 14.40.

There was talk of corporate action at Rentokil Initial, which ended the day 17.75p better off at 256.75p. However, the house broker said the volume of shares traded was not out of the ordinary. Just over 4 million changed hands.

Separately, investors in Royal Bank of Scotland were in the money, with the shares adding 25.5p to 675p after speculation that Abbey National could bid. The bank was also attracting buyers after news of the merger between First Union and Core States in the US.

Vodafone got the right number yesterday after the previous day's losses. The phone company improved 14.5p to 356p after a snowstorm of positive brokers' notes. Lehman Brothers, SBC Warburg, BZW, UBS and HSBC James Capel all issued buy recommendations.

It was a question of number unobtainable, though, for another telecoms company, Ionica. The group fell from grace in a spectacular fashion yesterday, just four months after its July flotation. Ionica led the second-line fallers by a long stretch, crashing 101p to 156.5p after gloomy interim results and news that its network roll-out was to be delayed sparked a crisis of confidence in the management.

Retailers were left on the shelf yesterday after Safeway's profits warning. The company owned up to a downturn in sales which led to dull interim results. Brokers' downgrades followed, and the company led the Footsie fallers to close 64p poorer at 330p. SBC Warburg, Societe Generale and UBS were among those emitting negative noises yesterday.

Other remaindered food retailers were Sainsbury, down 17.5p at 476.5p, and Tesco, 16.5p poorer at 473.5p.

Exporters had a tough time as the pound strengthened on the back of better- than-expected retail sales figures. Among those to feel the pain were TI Group, down 30p at 470p, and Zeneca, off 41p at pounds 17.17.

Rio Tinto, the global mining giant, was a big Footsie casualty as market- makers took fright at the slide in base metal prices and sent the stock down 26.5p to 720p. UBS is among several brokers to have slashed forecasts. The investment house has lopped its 1998 estimates by 9 per cent. Rio is more exposed to copper than its mining peers, so reports of excess supply in the copper market in the past few days have hit it hard. During the first six months of the year, copper accounted for more than one-fifth of Rio's sales.

P&O got becalmed in early trading after news that Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, had cleared its merger with Stena Line but had attached conditions. The two cross-channel ferry companies will have to give guarantees about passenger fares. P&O was as low as 651p at one point but rallied later to close just 2p down at 667p.

Another transport company suffering from a lack of fuel was British Airways, 8p worse off at 555p, after easyJet said it was seeking legal advice about the airline's plans to offer a rival "no-frills" service.