MARKET REPORT : Anxious seller puts the skids under BAT

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The Independent Online
Word is that the long-awaited refinancing of United Breweries is nearly complete. The shares were suspended at 6.75p in September. The revamp is being led by Vijay Mallya whose main Indian company, UB, has attracted the attention of a George Soros fund. The United Breweries reshaping includes the injection of a pubs group, Inn Business.

Ryland, a motor distributor that came to the stock market in September, seems set to produce profits of more than £3m in the year to April. It made just over £2m last year. The shares, floated at 80p, are now 83p. The group is looking for acquisitions but does not want to stray from its regional bases, the Midlands, North-west and Ulster.

Shares of BAT Industries, the financial services and tobacco giant, had a difficult session as Cazenove, the stockbroker, placed 6 million shares at 418p.

BATs started the session at 432p. But it would appear a fund manager, thought to be American, was prepared to sell to Cazenove at 415p, providing the stockbroker with a quick 3p turn.

It was the anxiety to sell - and accept a deal so far below the ruling stock market price - that caused the unease.

The shares have been under pressure this month, hit by increasingly unfavourable legal decisions and a bearish stance from NatWest Securities. The latest legal move is the threat of litigation from US smokers following a New Orleans court approval of action against US tobacco groups.

NatWest's contribution, which surfaced last week, was to put a 388p sum- of-the-parts valuation on the shares. The group is due to announce profits next month. About £1.96bn is expected, up from £1.8bn. In busy trading, Seaq put turnover at more than 19 million, the shares fell 10p to 422p.

BAT was one of the few blue chips to attract interest. With New York closed the market had an exceedingly quiet day with currency and political worries restricting interest. The FT-SE 100 index fell 25.6 points to 3,018.6.

There was also a reluctance to take positions ahead of the spring results season which, some argue, starts today with figures from Guardian, National Westminster and Unilever.

Yorkshire Chemicals, another with figures today, will be closely watched. It could be a trailblazer for Imperial Chemical Industries, due on Thursday. If Yorkshire makes more than £14.5m, up from just over £13m, it will be seen as an encouraging signal for ICI, once regarded as the bellwether of the British economy.

There are signs of a warming to ICI. SG Warburg lifted its profit estimate from £500m to £520m and moved from £735m to £800m for this year.

But it would be unwise to suggest ICI has a big City army of friends. Some investment houses think the shares - down 2p at 729p - are overvalued.

The brush with Hanson, and subsequent disposals, finally removed ICI's already questionable bellwether tag. But its performance, of course, is still regarded as vitally important and will be watched in some quarters for signals about the country's seemingly faltering economic recovery.

Electricities, which have been such a spur to market sentiment since the takeover rumours first surfaced, had a dull session with Northern Electric managing to flicker 8p higher to 1,120p. Seeboard and Yorkshire, which have attracted intense speculation, were hit by the inevitable profit- takers, falling 17p to 447p and 18p to 856p respectively.

But the generators continued to brighten as the government share sale moves ahead. National Power gained 7.5p to 481p and PowerGen 8p to 503p.

A batch of figures was well received. Low & Bonar, a packaging group, rose 27p to 408p and Regent Inns 12p to 319p. Baldwins, a leisure and property group, gained 17p to 135p.

Retailers were weak. Warburg sell advice lowered Kwik Save, the food discounter, 6p to 540p and Paribas took 8p off Kingfisher to 406p.

The arrival of Nigel Rudd as chairman of Pilkington lifted the price 5p to 158p.

But the building sector was generally weak following the pessimistic survey from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The housing market remained flat in January and talk of "recovery is increasingly irrelevant", it said. Barratt Developments gave up 4p to 159p.

On the financial pitch SG Warburg retreated 15p to 711p but Kleinwort Benson gained 11p to 634p.

The clearers were in the limelight. Hoare Govett lowered its forecast for HSBC from £3.15bn to £3bn, ahead of next week's figures. The shares fell 10p to 659p.

Rolls-Royce dipped 2p to 152p. Henderson Crosthwaite remain buyers. The stockbroker draws attention to the impact on profits of cost savings at the US aero engine group, Pratt & Whitney. Rolls, it points out, has cut costs in the past three year, reducing its headcount by 12,200.

SmithKline Beecham fell 8p to 484p. A £500m provision is expected with its figures.

Time Products, the watches and luggage group, held at 227p as stockbroker Albert E Sharp described the company as "a fascinating growth story in the making". It has lifted its year's profit forecast from £11.4m to £12m which would represent an underlying advance of 22 per cent.

Lonrho, the international trading group, fell 3p to 149p as the shares were unsettled by the type of bizarre story that so often influences the price. Reports that Libya intends to buy a 10 per cent interest, presumably through the market, should have pushed the shares higher.

Tiny Rowland, who is stepping down as chief executive, was in Libya last week and denied the reports.

Lonrho dismissed them as "mischief-making".