Market Report: Bid speculation flying around travel industry

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SUDDENLY, rumours of bids, deals and cash calls are swirling in the gossipy travel industry.

Followers are convinced a big deal is being lined up. Talk that American Express could buy Thomson Holidays has been denied. But there are indications that a new, far-reaching alliance embracing leading names is under consideration.

In the City much of the speculation revolves around Owners Abroad, the package holidays group that earlier this year escaped the clutches of Airtours, the number-two British operator after Thomson.

Owners, which has had a traumatic year, is said to be preparing a rights issue. After the Airtours confrontation it became apparent that profit hopes nursed during the bid battle had been too optimistic, and Howard Klein, chairman, and Roger Allard, chief executive, agreed to leave.

Stories abound that Owners' successful airline, Air 2000, is under some pressure to renegotiate its leasing arrangements. Owners denies any such development.

It is, no doubt, the lease rumours that have helped to create stories that shareholders will have to contend with a cash call.

LTU, the German group that came to Owners' rescue in the Airtours battle, is said to be prepared to underwrite the cash call. The German group, which owns Thomas Cook, has 21.4 per cent, mostly acquired at 150p a share.

If it should underwrite an issue, said to be one-for-two at 70p to raise pounds 50m, it would almost certainly increase its shareholding. Such creeping control would be in line with LTU's perceived policy.

Owners, which described the rights rumours as 'absolutely untrue', fell 2p to 82p.

The rest of the stock market was in ragged retreat, with the FT-SE 100 index down 63.4 points to 3,085.6, wiping nearly pounds 10bn from share values. At its worst, it was off 65.7. The supporting FT-SE 250 index dived 40.3 to 3,460.1.

It was the biggest retreat - leaving the index at its lowest for nearly a month - since October last year, when worries about sterling and a sharp New York sell-off left the Footsie down 103.4 points.

New York, aided by other overseas markets, did much of the damage. American and Hong Kong-influenced shares were among those hit.

The US retreat has been triggered by lower bond prices on worries that interest rates may have to be tweaked higher.

Government stocks expressed unease, suffering falls of more than one point.

Television shares were among the few bright spots. A report that the Government intends to relax the rules preventing TV mergers sparked the interest. But best levels were not held in the general rout. Anglia closed up 14p at 394p. LWT (Holdings), where Granada lurks with nearly 20 per cent, added 15p to 499p and Yorkshire 13p to 183p.

Food manufacturers and retailers remained depressed, with price war worries adding to the gloom.

Guinness, entertaining analysts in Greece, was unable to resist the crash despite bullish comments by Tony Greener, chairman. The shares fell 22p to 408p.

Mr Greener said the drinks group was trading 'resiliently in difficult times'. Prospects for Scotch whisky were the best for many years.

Euro Disney found the prevailing gloom too much, falling to a new low of 513p, down 27p.

The Greycoat rescue plan left the shares 1.5p higher at 25.5p. The preference gained 3.25p to 62p.

It was not only market influences that damaged US-related stocks. Reuters, down 49p to 1,632p, was ruffled by the row over Globex, the electronic futures trading system.

And the disastrous Californian bush fires hit BAT Industries, down 18p to 461p, as fears grew that its US Farmers insurance group could suffer.

Grand Metropolitan, an obvious casualty of the US market, was also unsettled by the growing controversy over its Inntrepreneur pubs estate. The shares fell 15p to 389p.

Amersham International, reporting interim figures next week, bucked the trend, up 6p to 950p. NatWest Securities looks for pounds 16.5m against pounds 10.2m. An old bid favourite, Fisons, also went against the herd, up 2p at 153p.

Wardle Storeys, the chemicals group, was little changed at 448p. There are suggestions that Monday's results could be accompanied by a significant acquisition.

Multitrust is sacrificing its investment trust status. In what appears to be a classic reverse takeover, it is about to acquire another as yet unidentified group. The deal will involve a rights issue. Multitrust is run by the property man Andrew Perloff, whose interests include the Etonbrook and Panther Securities property groups. Multitrust shares were suspended at 87p.

Goodhead, the troubled printing group, edged ahead 1p to 21p as its founder, Colin Rosser, with an 8.5 per cent stake, quit as a director. John Madejski, chairman, with 22 per cent, is expected to produce the year's figures on Friday. They are likely to show the scars of reorganisation. A small trading profit is expected to be swamped by the exceptional costs of this year's revamp.