Market Report: Bid talk centres on insurer and biscuit maker

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The Independent Online
THE STOCK market dusted down some of its old takeover favourites yesterday.

The surprise Tomkins intervention in the battle for Ranks Hovis McDougall prompted many speculators to spend the last day of the account trying to spot the next bid victim.

Royal Insurance and United Biscuits were the unlikely duo generating much of the excitement. In often brisk trading Royal rose 12p to 227p and UB 8p to 340p. Since Tomkins' counter-offer Royal has risen 20p and UB 14p.

Allianz, the German insurer, remains the market's favourite to descend on Royal. Most insurance followers think such a move unlikely, but their scepticism failed to dim the speculation.

UB, which once battled with Hanson for control of the old Imperial Group, was strong on the unlikely theory that Hanson, if defeated by Tomkins over RHM, will turn its attentions to the biscuit group.

Hanson, of course, comfortably defeated UB in the 1986 struggle for Imps.

APV, the engineer, improved 4p to 84p on talk that Siebe will return with another bid. Siebe, which made a takeover attempt in the mid-1980s, improved 3p to 337p.

John Mowlem, the builder, was another to draw support from Hanson bid stories. It was also helped by hopes that the go- ahead will be given for the Underground Jubilee Line to be built in London and it is near to fixing a deal to sell part, or perhaps control, of its London City Airport. The shares rose 5p to 77p.

RHM edged ahead 2p to 275p, Hanson 1.5p to 228p and Tomkins was unchanged at 212p.

The rest of the market pondered the Chancellor's speech, sought further indications of the moves to get the economy moving and waited hopefully for an interest rate cut.

The FT-SE 100 index ended 16 points higher at 2,658.3. In the account, which has produced steady rather than spectacular trading, the index has climbed 94.4 points.

Many expect an interest rate cut in the next account, probably before the Autumn Statement. Hopes of a modestly expanded public works programme, including the Jubilee Line, prompt some interest in building and building material shares.

There was the usual array of profit downgradings. Simon Engineering was a casualty of a Smith New Court revision. The shares slumped 35p to 79p as SNC lowered this year's prediction from pounds 13.8m to pounds 12m and next from pounds 17.5 to pounds 13.4m.

As if to prove it is never too late to downgrade BET, UBS Phillips & Drew became the latest to revise its forecast, cutting the shares 4p to 102p. Standard Chartered, the banking group, lost 8p to 485p. County NatWest lowered this year's prediction from pounds 220m to between pounds 170m and pounds 180m.

First Leisure Corporation, which has survived the leisure downturn in much better shape than most, encountered a revision from Barclays de Zoete Wedd. This year's expectation has been reduced from pounds 32m to pounds 31.5m with next down from pounds 38m to pounds 33m. The shares shaded 2p to 383p.

Rank Organisation's keenly awaited analysts' meeting went smoothly without producing the horrors feared by some bears. It pushed the shares 12p higher to 586p. The confident tone of the Rank meeting spilt over to Allied Leisure, which spurted 7.5p to 30.5p.

The day's two newcomers were happily embraced. The publisher Dorling Kindersley surged to 213p from a 165p issue price. The pub operator JD Wetherspoon reached 172p before closing at 167p against a 160p issue.

Great Universal Stores continued to benefit from the Panmure Gordon push, rising 45p to 1,593p. Reed International gained 7p to 582p as it unveiled its new Elsevier terms and produced better-than-expected profits of pounds 93.5m against pounds 85.3m.

Bass edged ahead 5p to 549p as indications of a hotel deal with Queens Moat Houses, up 3p at 43p, continued to create interest.

Glaxo Holdings was ruffled by unfavourable comments about its anti-nausea drug Zofran, falling 10p to 799p.

The acquisitive Medeva drugs group dipped 4p to 194p. Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull likes the shares. It suggests profits this year will soar from pounds 16.7m to pounds 35.5m with pounds 53.8m likely next year.

Gresham House, the investment group, nearly halved to 1.75p. Losses and talks with the group's bankers continue.

Millwall, the football club, edged forward 0.5p to 4.5p. The shares have crept from 2.5p in the past month. It is thought the sellers who depressed the price have been soaked up by a private client stockbroker and a West Country investment firm.

The growing interest in the First Division club has nothing to do with its performances on the football pitch. It is the rewarding potential of its new stadium, which should be ready for next season. A US event organisation, Ogden Services, has been signed up to stage promotions at the new stadium and there are expectations that it will stage up to 70 events a year, which should make the ground a considerable generator of cash.

The account ended on a mildly bullish note, with the FT-SE 100 index up 16 points on the day at 2,658.3. At one time it was down 5.7. The FT 30 index improved 15.1 to 1,963.8. Turnover remained above 500 million, reaching 558.3 million. Bargains totalled 27,885. Government stocks gave ground

Barrie Hoar, chief of little Hoskins Brewery, the Leicester-based business, took comfort yesterday from his confrontation with the rebel shareholder Richard Cattermole. Most of the board's resolutions were approved at a shareholders' meeting; only one, requiring a 75 per cent majority, was lost. The two cross swords again at a special meeting next month. Shares are 45p.

In a reverse takeover Prime People, the recruitment group, is paying pounds 2.77m in cash, loan notes and shares for Bowford Engineering, a leading industrial training group with a blue chip client list. The combined group should make pounds 250,000 this year and pounds 1.1m next. Prime's shares were suspended for the deal, which includes a pounds 490,000 rights issue, at 4.25p.

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