Market Report: Anglia shines in possible TV takeover episode

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The Independent Online
SHARES of Anglia Television starred in a lacklustre stock market yesterday as the feeling grew that the Norwich-based group could be the most vulnerable of the commercial stations should Peter Brooke, the Heritage Secretary, turn the takeover switch.

On Monday Mr Brooke met TV executives to discuss the suggestion that the commercial TV industry should be thrown open to the perils of takeover bids. Currently ITV rules prevent any of the nine largest companies taking each other over.

Indications of a more relaxed attitude, it appears, have been welcomed by the industry leaders. But many of the smaller TV groups feel threatened.

Anglia, regarded as a well-run group with some enticing titles, rose 12p to 329p. The shares have performed strongly. In October they were 145p.

Other smaller TV groups to feel the speculative pinch are Border, HTV and Ulster. Central Independent TV also looks exposed with Carlton Communications, a keen advocate of the more relaxed rules, seen as the most likely predator.

Border has risen from 90p to 122p this year; HTV from 19p to 55.5p and Ulster from 274p to 455p.

The rest of the market decided Monday's exuberance on interest rate hopes was misplaced and settled for a downbeat performance ahead of Kenneth Clarke's first Mansion House speech as Chancellor. The FT-SE 100 index finished 15.5 points down at 2,870 and even the normally reliable FT-SE 250 index had an off day, falling 8.1 to 3,205.1.

But Fisons bucked the trend. The price advanced 6.5p to 168p, a two- day gain of 13p. Talk of a Swiss takeover strike continued but the sneaking feeling the accident-prone group was at last over the hump was another supportive influence.

Zeneca, despite the Securities and Exchange Commission's dealing relaxation, continued to keep the pounds 1.3bn rights backers on edge. The shares fell 1p to 616p with the nil paid at 16p. The rights price is 600p, leaving little room for manoeuvre.

Water shares, after their recent steep falls, bubbled cheerfully, inspired by the Wessex Water results, which offered further evidence of a utilities dividend race. Electricities also scored gains, helped along by Manweb's 15 per cent dividend increase. Wessex rose 12p to 570p; Manweb was unchanged at 522p.

Property shares wilted as the sector was hit by yet another cash call - a belated pounds 221.9m from MEPC. The market has shown signs of wear and tear from the almost continuous stream of rights issues. With BT's pounds 5.5bn flotation now in full swing the feeling is that MEPC may have just squeezed in before the clamp is put on big calls.

The issue could turn out to be something of an embarrassment for the FT-SE indices committee. It could lead to MEPC, expelled from Footsie in June last year, being recalled when the next revisions are considered in September.

MEPC lost its Footsie role because high debt levels, falling asset values and worries about the dividend hit its shares.

Some wonder whether Footsie revisions are becoming too frequent. This month the ruling committee had to indulge in four changes.

MEPC fell 8p to 414p; British Land and Great Portland Estates, also in the process of tapping their shareholders for more cash, lost ground as well. BL fell 8p to 303p and Great Portland 4p to 177p.

Coats Viyella, the textile group, continued to anticipate last night's investment presentation, gaining 4p to 230p. Unilever responded to its investment talk-ins with a further gain of 4p to 1,048p (a 17p two-day gain). Standard Chartered, the banking group, also felt the benefit of an impressive investment seminar, improving 15p to 769p.

Shell, after its City meeting, shaded 1p to 624p although Barclays de Zoete Wedd was impressed enough to suggest the shares could be worth 720p.

Royal Insurance shaded 5p to 283p. Its pounds 404m rights issue attracted an 87.2 per cent take-up. The rump was placed by SG Warburg and Hoare Govett at about 281p.

The appearance of the Belgian Sibelco group as a mandatory bidder for Watts Blake Bearne pushed the shares to 415p, 5p below the offer price. The WBB board said the offer was 'wholly inadequate'.

BAT Industries was ruffled by indications that its big US rival, Philip Morris, was extending its price-cutting programme. The shares fell 8p to 428p.

Comac, the obscure computer recruitment group where SD-Scicon's founder, Philip Swinstead, has moved in, continued to advance, improving 9p to 78p. The price has risen 34p since the Swinstead involvement became known on Monday.

But the remarkable headway of Clayform, where Martin Landau has become a power, ended with the shares shading 1p to 25p. On Monday, Market Intelligence Information reports, two Clayform directors paid up to 25p for shares.

Quality Software Products, a Gateshead-based computer group placed in March at 380p, jumped 29p to 555p. The excitement was generated by an order for a new software system from an unidentified international bank. The deal is expected to lead to more contracts.

Aviva Petroleum, which has had more than its share of setbacks, appears to be recovering. The shares rose 2p to 68p, near their high for the past year. The group's reports are increasingly encouraging with output from its Santana block in Colombia increasing from just under 3,000 barrels to 6,560 barrels a day. Henderson Crosthwaite has become broker and Royal Bank of Scotland is a big shareholder.

Hopes that Headlam, the fabric and footwear group, would step out with a takeover bid for Dinkie Heel, maker of soles, heels and toe caps, were dashed after the market closed when Headlam said it had sold its 6 per cent stake to clients of stockbroker Rowan Dartington. Dinkie shares have held near their high for the year on hopes of Headlam action. They closed at 24p but could give ground today.

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