Market Report: Boots and Airtours fly to lead share revival

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The Independent Online
AIRTOURS and Boots, an unlikely combination, helped inspire a stock market revival.

Much more relaxed fixed- interest markets and a surprisingly strong British Petroleum performance also contributed to a 35.5-point rebound, lifting the FT-SE 100 index to 3,106.

Investment presentations in Scotland by Hoare Govett were said to be responsible for the dramatic Airtours return to favour.

The shares have been under pressure since it became apparent the holiday group planned the takeover of SAS Leisure, the Scandinavian holiday business. Confirmation of an accompanying rights issue piled on the agony. Flying at near 500p in the early part of last month, Airtours quickly lost altitude, crashing to 430p.

A sudden burst of enthusiasm sent the shares surging 46p to 476p, settling at 469p. The nil paid rights more than doubled, hitting 86p and closing at 79p.

The upsurge was helped by an 800,000 trade at 495p.

Boots was again engulfed by rumours about its Do-It-All retail chain. Some believe Boots is on the verge of relieving its partner, WH Smith, of its half share in the loss-making do-it-yourself venture.

Others talk about a dramatic scaling down of the Do-It-All operation, with many of the outlets due to be sold or axed.

Transatlantic reports that Boots was negotiating to sell its Farley baby foods business to Heinz added to the speculative froth, helping lift the shares 12p to 559p. Smith improved 12p to 506p.

Kingfisher gained 12p to 592p as the market sensed competition for its B&Q DIY chain could be reduced by the Do-It-All restructuring; Ladbroke, owner of Texas, put on 3p to 184p.

BP topped 400p, ending at 399.5p, up 16.5p. Much better than expected figures and a sharp dividend increase convinced the market that fears of a huge rights issue can at last be laid to rest.

Shell, figures next week, jumped 15p to 721p. Enterprise Oil added 11p to 421p and its bid target Lasmo edged ahead 2p to 150p, with PDFM, the fund manager, topping up its interest to 14.6 per cent.

Reuters was the day's most actively traded blue chip, with Seaq putting volume at 34 million shares. A large chunk of the turnover stemmed from a Goldman Sachs placing of 12.5 million at 480p.

The shares are thought to have come from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which retains about 18 million. In a bought deal, Goldman is thought to have paid 475p. Earlier this week James Capel sold 2.6 million Reuters shares.

The sudden disenchantment with the information agency appears to have been provoked by the lukewarm response to its much heralded investment and product presentation in Geneva last week.

But the shares, reflecting relief at the ease with which the placing was accomplished, rose 11p to 501p.

Standard Chartered, weak recently, gained 29p to 965p as stories resurfaced that Lloyds Bank was preparing to place its 4.62 per cent shareholding, a legacy of its fierce but unsuccessful takeover assault in 1986. Lloyds, in a bank sector helped by a confident Barclays statement, gained 20p to 579p. Barclays was up 13p at 512p.

The latest Lloyds rumours followed its proposed Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society expansion, which underlined what was already suspected - it had lost interest in Standard.

A trio of newcomers had mixed fortunes. Keller, a construction group, was at one time suffering a discount on its 130p sale price. It ended at 132p. The computer group DRS Data managed to hold at 111p against a 110p issue price, but GRT Buses left behind its 160p sale price to reach 171p.

Wassall jumped 18p to 320p as the conglomerate produced its long-suspected takeover, the acquisition of a US group. It is helping finance the pounds 178.7m deal with a pounds 92.2m rights issue.

Rolls-Royce recovered from early turbulence, ending 4p higher at 194.5p. Hopes are growing that it will share in a string of Saudi Arabian orders.

Supermarket shares remained firm, with Argyll up 12.5p to 250.5p. J Sainsbury rose 14.5p to 392.5p and Tesco 8.5p to 223.5p.

A Lehman Brothers health conference made little impact, although Wellcome improved 13p to 563p and Zeneca added 9p to 697p.

London International Group, rapidly emerging as the market's favourite takeover candidate, put on 6p to 118p. The shares have come up from 104p this week.

An upbeat statement lifted Radius, a computer software group, 4p to 34p; Bernard Matthews, the food group, was another to score from a positive statement, up 7p at 107p.

Eurotunnel, ahead of the official opening, remained friendless, falling a further 6p to 460p as the market continued to fret about its refinancing package.

A change of direction could be under consideration for Chillington Corporation, which last year cut borrowings by selling its near controlling stake in Anglo Eastern Plantations for pounds 8.57m. The company has been run since the 1970s by its chairman and leading shareholder, Konrad Legg. There is talk that he is to be approached for his stake. The shares held at 47p.

Essex Furniture continues to spread beyond its home county. It is opening its 22nd store - at Portsmouth - tomorrow and is on target to lift its chain to 30 in the next year. The family-run business is expected to produce profits of pounds 1.6m this year against last year's pounds 1.08m. Three years ago the shares were the equivalent of 24.7p. They have since hit 281p, closing unchanged at 251p.

The FT-SE 100 index rose 35.5 points to 3,106 and the FT-SE 250 index 12.9 to 3,770.6. Turnover was 688.5 million shares from 23,992 bargains. The account ends on 13 May with settlement on 23 May. Government stocks rallied, gaining up to one point.