Market Report; Biotech falls further as fears grow

BRITISH BIOTECH slumped 8.5p to 39.5p, lowest for nearly three years as fears multiplied that more miserable tidings were due to be announced by the controversial drugs group.

Trading was often heavy. Seaq put turnover at approaching 25 million shares with a steady stream of small deals recorded.

It was, however, what appeared to be an old fashioned overnight bed and breakfast trade and downbeat comments from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, BriBio's house stockbroker, which caused the damage.

B&B deals lost their tax advantages in the March Budget. Nevertheless one institution thought it worth while to sell 12.46 million shares at 42p and then buy them back at 42.021p.

DKB added to the despair. It said its 43p share valuation could be too high. BriBio's shares touched 326.5p in 1996 as the stock market indulged in enthusiastic calculations over prospects for the company's Marimastat cancer drug. But DKB struggled to get a rights issue away and then doubts about BriBio's drug portfolio started to materialise. Disclosures by its sacked head of research, Dr Andrew Millar, created further unease.

Last month the company said chief executive Dr Keith McCullagh intended to stand down at the yearly shareholders' meeting later this year.

The rest of the drug sector was mesmerised by takeover talk. SmithKline Beecham, up 8p to 700p, has been the subject of heavy trading recently. rekindling talk of the elusive deal with Glaxo Wellcome being revived or even merging with another group. One name in the frame is Zeneca, off 26p to 2,634p. Glaxo rose 49p to 1,763p.

After their heady progress in the past two days, blue chips took a breather as profit-takers snatched their gains. Even so Footsie lost only 18 points to 6,019.8. The mid and small cap indices, helped by takeover action among hotels, made headway.

Financials continued to respond to the $34bn Wells Fargo/Norwest Corporation deal. CGU, the result of the Commercial Union and General Accident merger, gained 41p to 1,168p and Norwich Union added 6.25p to 475p. Barclays rose 20p to 1,767p and National Westminster 14p to 1,142p.

Diageo, on its US Burger King presentation, put on another 8p to 764p.

Railtrack's headlong progress ground to a halt, off 53p to 1,357p. Billiton, the mining group, fretted about the share overhang, falling 5.75p to 139.5p. BTR was hit by worries over the Australian currency; the shares fell 8.25p to 187p.

Hotels were in demand following the approaches to Thistle Hotels, where 46 per cent shareholder Brierley Investments, following its own boardroom shake-up, is regarded as a willing seller.

Thistle rose 37p to 237.5p, dragging Ladbroke up 19.5p to 355p. Rumours have swirled lately that Ladbroke, running the Hilton Hotels outside the US, plans to snuggle closer to Hilton Hotel Corporation, which operates the US franchise.

Vaux, the Sunderland brewer, on bid alert because of interest in its Swallow Hotels chain, hardened 1.5p to 356p and Greenalls, the De Vere Hotel group, rose 8p to 538p.

Cliveden, already in bid talks, hardened 3p to 94.5p and Queens Moat Houses 2.75p to 37.5p.

Jarvis Hotels, helped along by figures, put on 13.5p to 191.5p and Stakis, rumoured to be after the Swallow chain, 5p to 138p. The excitement even touched brewer Bass, which embraces the Holiday Inn hotel chain. It rose 15p to 1,120p.

Corporate Services, the employment group, hardened 22.5p to 260.5p following the $250m takeover of Corestaff, one of the largest US employment groups. To fund the deal a pounds 130.1m placing and open offer at 227p is being made. The deal should lift CS into the mid cap index.

Capital Radio also sounded a share sale, falling 10p to 665p. Cazenove is handling a placing of 7.6 million shares, representing 10.24 per cent of the capital. The shares mostly come from Radio Investments with some from Caledonia Investments.

Card Clear, the anti-fraud credit card operation, tumbled 15p to 62.5p following the sudden departure of Brian Raven, chief executive, and Oliver Cooke, finance director.

Trust Motor accelerated 26p to 233p as Reg Vardy duly appeared with an agreed pounds 36m offer (235p a share). Servomex, an electronic equipment group, slumped 65p to 247.5p after a profit warning. The shares were 388.5p last year.

Memory Corporation, the computer group, fell 4p to 30p following cautious comments. Last month it made a rights issue at 20p.

Stockbroker Charles Stanley, taking over the broking business of Waters Lunniss in Milton Keynes and Nottingham, gained 35p to 343.5p. It also disclosed doubled profits to pounds 4.26m.

JJB Sports, ahead of the World Cup kick-off, scored an 18p gain to 625.5p. The shares were 822.5p earlier this year but then doubts appeared about the growth of sports retailing.

Energy Techniques, the old Benson Group, climbed 5p to 50p after stockbroker Albert E Sharp predicted profits of pounds 2.8m for the current year.

Safestore, running self storage units returned to market after the pounds 7m take over of a similar business, Metrostore. The shares rose 4p to 86p.

The Metrostore deal was completed at 65p. Stockbroker Rahael Zorn Hemsley is keen on the shares. It sees profits of pounds 683,000 in the year to October, 1999, and pounds 1.5m in the following year.

Omnimedia was suspended at 2.25p after adding 0.5p. It is involved in a reverse take over deal. The share of the loss making group were down to 0.75p early this year.

Chieftain, an insulation and fireproofing group, slipped 2.5p to 112.5p. In February it said it felt the best way to realise its potential was to merge with a bigger group.

The shares have been as high as 130p as talks have proceeded but a deal is clearly proving difficult to accomplish.

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