MARKET REPORT; Bid hopes for Harrisons as directors raise stakes

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The Independent Online
Harrisons & Crosfield, the chemical to timber group, put on its best display for months as break up hopes were reinforced by director buying.

Two directors and the wife of another picked up 491,000 shares at prices up to 114.5p with the shares jumping 10p to 119p.

At Harrisons' yearly meeting on Tuesday chairman George Paul gave the clearest hint yet that the group would be reshaped. Some observers took the view a demerger was being planned. But at a lunchtime presentation yesterday at stockbroker Panmure Gordon the view gained ground that the group regarded its building, timber and chemical operations as likely to form the backbone of the reshaped business. The agriculture and food operations seem to be earmarked for trade sales.

Mr Paul, addressing shareholders, talked about "radical action" being required and said Harrisons was examining a range of options to "maximise the group's future growth prospects and to enhance value for shareholders" .

Director Mike Parker led the buying, picking up 400,000 shares; chief executive Bill Turcan acquired 85,000 and the wife of director Michael Hartnall settled for 6,000.

Harrisons' shares have been in ragged retreat as profits have failed to inspire confidence. They have fallen in the past year from 146p to 102p a few weeks ago. Around Christmas 1994 the price topped 200p.

Footsie ended a four-day winning run with a 4.1 fall to 4,677.5. At one time it was above 4,700; then the stock market started to fret about weakness in gilts and a sell-off in Paris. With index constituents Grand Metropolitan and Guinness suffering from the LVMH retaliation and New York for once offering little encouragement, Footsie was at one time down 10.9 before a few late buyers appeared.

Grandmet topped the list of blue-chip fallers, giving up 15.5p to 581p; Guinness lost 14p to 582p.

Financials were subjected to a little profit taking but a money share, Mercury Asset Management, managed to top the Footsie leader board with a 30p gain to 1,442.5p, just below its peak.

Astonishment over the latest expectations for Halifax's debut on Monday was another factor restraining activity among financials. Talk the opening price could nudge 750p seemed, in the eyes of many, to be straining credibility and most institutions, essential players in the soaraway scenario, are felt unlikely to buy if they feel the price has become too inflated.

De La Rue, the security printer, said its year's results would be announced next week and the shares quickly fell 23p on worries of a disappointing performance. Interim profits were down and reorganisation costs of pounds 15m have been signalled. The shares closed at 476p, off 15.5p. A few years ago they were above 1,000p.

Another profit warning from the WEW retail chain left the shares off 2.5p at 15.5p and Harvey Nichols, the Knightsbridge store, offered a sad sign of how department stores have lost their more glamorous ratings, falling 1.5p to 281p. The shares, which touched 372.5p, were placed at 270p in April last year.

Wm Morrison, the supermarket chain, edged ahead 1.5p to 152p; stockbroker Charterhouse Tilney was thought to have placed 5 million shares.

Hartlepool Water splashed 62.5p higher to 257.5p as Anglian Water produced a 266p bid.

Shell, enjoying a round of investment presentations, gained 6p to 1215.5p. As the market closed little Emerald Energy announced it should approach its oil target in "the next few days". The shares had already gained 0.5p to 5.75p.

Airtours, the holidays group, bounced 15p higher to 1,068.5p, on its move into the controversial timeshare business. BZW believes this could enhance profits by up to pounds 30m.

Berkeley, the housebuilder, rose 25.5p to 690.5p on SBC Warburg support and Logica, the computer group, put on 14p to 864p as NatWest Securities switched its stance from reduce to hold.

Takeover speculation continued to flow around the JD Wetherspoon pubs chain with the shares foaming 37.5p to a 1,317.5p peak. This month they have risen 152.5p.

Thomas Potts, the printer, shaded 0.25p to 11.75p. Talk persists it will buy Coalite, the smokeless fuel business from troubled Anglo United, unchanged at 1.75p. Entrepreneur Nigel Wray has 22 per cent of Potts and is known to be anxious to complete a deal to beef up the group. Any Coalite deal will involve a fund raising exercise. Eurasia Mines jumped 30p to 250p on a signalled bid from QEX of Canada.