Market Report: BET cash call triggers fears of another flop

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CONCERN was expressed in some quarters yesterday about the level of take-up for the recent pounds 200m cash call launched by BET, the industrial services conglomerate.

Although the issue has been underwritten by Baring Brothers, Cazenove and de Zoete & Bevan, a few traders were uneasy about the implications for the market should shareholders spurn the issue.

Fears about the possibility of a low take-up heightened yesterday, taking BET's shares down 3p to 109p and below the 110p rights price.

If current acceptances are low, the clock is not in BET's favour. Acceptances for the one-for-four rights have to be in by next Tuesday.

Some shareholders have already aired their grievances about the rights, levying criticism at Sir Christopher Harding, chairman of BET, at last month's annual meeting.

The last thing the market needs is another issue flop, with confidence at a very low ebb. Share price movements are volatile, out of synchronisation in relation to dealing levels.

Yesterday saw a lively beginning and end to dealings, but there was no middle. Bed-and- breakfast dealing took on a new meaning.

An early 16.5-point advance registered by the FT-SE 100 share index was overcome barely an hour after the bell as the bears took hold.

The market lacked anything more than good overnight performances on Wall Street and Tokyo, and was unable to sustain the initial momentum created by Imperial Chemical Industries' demerger plans.

ICI raced ahead, bringing to an end the steady decline from the pounds 14 high reached in May. At one stage the shares stood 134p higher at pounds 12.29, worth 6.3 index points. Disappointing second- quarter profits were overshadowed by the demerger plans.

The company's price came off the top towards the close, however, and the advance was cut to 76p at pounds 11.71. Estimates of the company's break-up value vary greatly, stretching between pounds 12.75p and pounds 13.75p.

Volume trading in ICI was heavy, with 14 million turned over - alone equal to more than 3 per cent of the day's business of 431 million.

Courtaulds, BOC and Fisons were marked up on the ICI news but only two of the three managed to close higher. Courtaulds finished 7p better at 461p and Fisons 10p up at 173p but BOC recorded a 9.5p fall to 606p after hitting 620p.

Once the ICI impact had been absorbed, the market had to wait until late in the afternoon for any more excitement and a placing that would add some respectability to trading figures.

Cazenove came to the rescue, placing 21.15 million out of 24 million shares held in Marks and Spencer by the trustees of the Marks and Spencer Pension Scheme. The shares were placed at 305p, pulling M&S down by 8p to 311p.

The stake, equal to less than 1 per cent of M&S, represented 7 per cent of the assets by value of the pension fund. Total turnover in M&S amounted to 41 million.

M&S said the placing was necessary to comply with legislation requiring a reduction in the value of any interest in the employer's shares to less than 5 per cent of a fund's total value before March 1994.

Generally, share prices were unsteady with sentiment depressed by Helmut Schlesinger, chairman of the Bundesbank, ruling out any imminent cut in German interest rates.

Footsie closed 11.6 points lower at 2,411.6. Wall Street, the driving force behind Tuesday's and Wednesday's advances, opened softer.

Gossip was thin on the ground, although rumours that one broker was telling clients to switch from Tesco to Sainsbury did the rounds. Tesco lost 11p to 246p while Sainsbury firmed 3.5p to 455.5p.

A promise to maintain dividend payments failed to put a floor under Kwik-Fit, under pressure this week after warning of depressed tyre sales. The price dropped a further 6.5p to 104.5p.

Banks were mixed after the release of Midland's results. Barclays lost 3p to 319p, National Westminster fell 5p to 325p, but Lloyds, due to report today, gained 5p to 424p.

HSBC Holdings, the owner of Midland, eased 1.5p to 335.5p.

Brokers' recommendations helped Inchcape 3p higher to 420p and Cable & Wireless to 537p, up 12p.

The debut of TransAtlantic, owner of 50 per cent of Sun Life, started smoothly with the shares - priced at 188p - rising 7p to 195p.

NSM, the opencast mining company, continued to slide, falling 5p to close at a year's low of 24p.

Sir Ron Brierley's stakebuilding in Gibbs Mew, the small Wiltshire brewer, is close to developing into a full-blown takeover bid. Brierley Investments, which owns 19.7 per cent, said it was considering making a bid above Wednesday's closing price of 138p. Gibbs, which said it was surprised at the unsolicited approach, yesterday closed 30p higher at 168p after 178p.

Mowat Group is taking a needed pounds 1.87m of cash on board through the sale of its Norfolk Broads fleet. The deal, worth a total pounds 3.87m, involves the sale of Pennant Group, Potter Heigham Boatyard and fleet to a private company owned by the Funnell family. Mowat, up 0.5p to 3p, will retain the Pennant holiday parks and use the cash to cut group borrowings.