Market Report: Betting on lottery winner proves a gamble too far

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The Independent Online
THE stock market loves a gamble. But for many a speculator the identity of the group destined to run the national lottery seems to be a bet too far.

Tomorrow, Oflot, the latest in a tantalisingly long line of regulators, is due to identify the winning consortium to be entrusted with the running of the new lottery.

Camelot appears to be the favourite to get the Oflot nod. Yet, judging by the performance of the shares of its consortium members, victory would be a non-event.

The leading consortium constitutents displayed none of the flair and imagination associated with a successful bookie. Cadbury Schweppes, despite a bullish note from Williams de Broe, fell 4p to 495p, De La Rue, fretting about a possible hostile bid for Portals, lost 11p to 846p and Racal Electronics, helped by an acquisition and continuing takeover speculation, managed a 1p gain to 225p.

Even the expected runner-up failed to offer shareholder joy. The Great British Lottery could not manage a solitary gain among its members, such distinguished players as Granada, Vodafone, Hambros, Carlton Communications and Daily Mail & General Trust.

The predicted also-rans failed to score. Ladbroke, a leading participant in the Games for Good Causes consortium, had to contend with a profit warning, falling 16.5p to 182.5p, and its main partner MAI lost 1p to 264p.

Enterprise Lottery's star contenders are General Electric Co (unchanged at 320p) and Thorn EMI, down 18p at 1,096p. Lottery Foundation has Rank Organisation bidding in partnership with City institutions. Rank shaded 1p to 417p.

The rest of the stock market was in a fretful mood with a poor New York opening crushing any hope of a postive display. The FT-SE 100 index ended 18.9 points down at 3,108.4. But trading was pathetically thin with turnover of only 417.1 million shares - one of the lowest levels of the year.

Eurotunnel was again weighed down by cash call worries. With the rights issue element now thought to be about pounds 900m the shares fell a further 20p at 355p.

Lasmo held at 157p. Rumours bidder Enterprise Oil plans to add a cash alternative to its share exchange offer continue to go the rounds. A counter-offer is also expected. Latest name in the frame is Repsol, the Spanish oil group.

Although Enterprise shaded 6p to 422p British Petroleum, helped by a firm oil price, edged ahead 3p to 397.5p. A deal that will allow, for the first time, its Alaskan oil to be pumped directly into the US market more than offset the minor ripples of a tanker spill in Alaskan waters.

Marley, a long-standing takeover candidate, was back in the spotlight, gaining 3p to 164p. Laura Ashley, with Next rumoured to be interested, shaded 1p to 83p.

Reckitt & Colman, the household group, edged ahead 2p to 625p on James Capel support but Scottish & Newcastle, the brewing group, weakened 4p to 542p as Smith New Court moved the shares from buy to hold.

Portals, anticipating the suspected bid from De La Rue, advanced 32p to 793p but Signet reflected worries that US preference shareholders will demand a dilutive refinancing with a 5.5p fall to 39p.

Betterware, with figures below expectations, dipped 5p to 123p.

Newcomer Nightfreight, placed at 111p, managed a 1p advantage and garage group Dixons jumped 30p to 223p on speculative interest.

Waters failed to hold their best levels but in most cases managed to end higher. Over the weekend the chairmen of the privatised groups received outline proposals from the industry regulator about future pricing policies.

The Ofwat proposals are confidential, but the market seems prepared to adopt a postive approach, lifting Thames 6.5p to 497.5p and Yorkshire 15p to 513p.

Acorn Computers spurted 12p to 96p on reports the silicon chip developed by its Advance Risc Machines associate had won a licensing deal with Samsung. Eidos, the video-editing group, continued its roller-coaster run, down 55p at 350p.

Carlisle, the commercial property agency, edged ahead 2p to 33p. There are hopes a deal will be announced shortly. Entreprenurial investor Nigel Wray has moved into the loss-making group and raised cash for expansion. With the rump of the business trading well Carlisle is handily placed.

It should, if sentiment is any guide, be a good week for Wyevale, Britain's biggest garden centre group, as it basks in the reflected glory of the Chelsea Flower Show. Wyevale, which is headed by HP Bulmer chief John Rudgard, has 42 outlets and cash in the bank for acquisitions. It should lift profits by 33 per cent to pounds 5.7m this year. The shares held at 161p.

Sunleigh, the leisure group best known for its electric golf caddies has, as suspected, a big takeover in its sights. The former machine tool and welding equipment group asked for its shares to be suspended while talks went ahead. It is thought that its target is in the leisure industry. The shares were suspended at 8p against a year's high of 10p.

The FT-SE 100 index ended 18.9 points lower at 3,108.4 and the supporting FT-SE 250 index 5.3 at 3,709.3. Turnover was a lowly 417.1 million shares with 24,353 bargains. The account ends on 3 June with settlement on 13 June. Government stocks weakened.

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