Market Report: Brazilian crisis takes the shine off Pilkington

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The Independent Online
PILKINGTON, the glass group that has suffered a series of shattering reverses in recent years, had an eventful session with stories of takeover action mingling with worries of profit downgradings.

As the shares deteriorated Pilks has looked increasingly vulnerable to a hostile takeover strike. With the price now at its lowest since 1982, the famous glass-maker is a sitting duck.

Under chief executive Paolo Scaroni the group has made strenuous efforts to reshape, but it remains a victim of the slowdown in world trading and is thought to be a casualty of the Brazilian economic crisis.

An overseas predator taking the group out of its misery is the stock market guess and it was bid speculation that was responsible for a 2.5p gain to 53p. But, in brisk trading, worries that Brazil will force analysts to cut their profit forecasts got the upper hand and the shares ended just 0.5p higher at 51p.

Last year Pilks suffered a pounds 100m loss. Profit estimates for the year ending March are currently around pounds 130m. The shares were 320p just ahead of the 1987 crash; they touched 148p in the spring.

The rest of the market had an indecisive time with Footsie ending 4.8 points higher at 5,885.7; it swung between extremes of a 46.9 gain and a fall of 58. Takeover hopes and a solid New York display helped sentiment. Once again, trading was busy with turnover topping 1 billion shares.

LucasVarity, as the market dwelt on the possibility of a bid battle, led the Footsie leader board, jumping 42p to 286p. The LV action and the swift end to the Adwest Automotive bid saga helped other engineers. Adwest, which announced the likelihood of a 150p offer on Monday, happily clinched the deal, which represented a 104 per cent premium on Friday's closing price, with US Dura Automotive.

Laird was one to respond, gaining 16p to 172.5p. Others higher included Avon Rubber, 15p to 550p, and Morgan Crucible, 9p to 172.5p. Even little engineer Solvera managed a 0.25p gain to 4.75p after reporting discussions with one potential bidder had ended but another remained in the wings.

Elsewhere Inn Business, the pubs chain, jumped 13.5p to 60p as Enterprise Inns, down 14.5p to 365.5p, expressed bid interest and Gremlin, a computer games group where a predator is known to lurk, added 21p to 121p.

On the textile pitch Stirling firmed 3.5p to 30p on talk of a strike from Dewhirst, down 3.5p to 73.5p.

LIG, the old London International, gained 9p to 172.5p. Credit Lyonnais and HSBC believe the mystery bidder should pay around 200p a share.

Microsoft's 5 per cent stake in cable group NTL, representing a pounds 300m investment, stimulated other cable groups. Telewest Communications surged 17p to 267.75p and Cable & Wireless Communications 25.5p to 805.5p. The enthusiasm spilt over to others in the telecom sector with Colt Telecom 50p higher at 1,230p.

Dixons, on its reorganisation and continuing appeal as an internet play, surfed 35.5p higher to 976p. Psion, the hand-held computer group, logged a 55p gain to 892.5p and Filtronic, making telephone components, romped ahead 64p to a 749p peak after recording a 14 per cent half-year profits gain.

Misys, the computer group, edged up 13p to 498p ahead of figures tomorrow. An interim profit of around pounds 55m is expected, up from pounds 32.1m. Analysts are due to visit the group's US operations later this month.

The boardroom upheaval at Mirror, the newspaper publisher, and expectations of corporate action excited media shares. United News & Media put on 16.5p to 520.5p and Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspapers firmed a further 50p to 1,700p. Mirror hardened 1.5p to 208.5p.

Reuters, the information group, added 11p to 865.5p. Figures are due next month; they are not expected to be exciting. But Henderson Crosthwaite is looking for double-digit earnings growth this year and is keen on the shares. The figures will be followed by an investment roadshow, taking in London, the US and Europe.

Pearson jumped 64p to 1,391p, a peak. So Marjorie Scardino, chief executive, has comfortably beaten the share price performance target she set. In August 1997, when the shares were around 650p, she promised the price would double - in five years.

Unilever softened 4.5p to 592.5p. A two-way pull developed with BT Alex.Brown making positive noises but CSFB trimmed its profit forecasts although it appeared to remain on the buy tact. The CSFB cuts are from pounds 2.99bn to pounds 2.95bn and from pounds 3.17bn to pounds 3.03bn. Cautious trading comments from Procter & Gamble, the US giant, are causing some concern about Unilever's performance.

Vodafone rose 12p to 1,159.5p with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson suggesting a 1,400p target following an investment meeting.

P&O, the shipping group, was lifted 11p to 616p by WestLB Panmure. British American Tobacco was puffed 15.5p higher to 619p with Robert Fleming suggesting a 750p price.

National Grid, up 14.75p to 509.5p, reflected the suspicion it was about to make another trans-Atlantic strike. It is thought to be preparing a pounds 700m bid for Eastern Utilities Associates, which would fit in well with New England Electric which Grid acquired a month ago. The electricity group has cash to burn - it raised pounds 1.2bn reducing its interest in telecom off-shoot Energis. Senior Engineering, meeting analysts tomorrow, hardened 7p to 105.5p

Novara, an educational and medical products supplier, firmed 5p to 46.5p. Phillips & Drew (P&D) has increased its shareholding to 12.7 per cent.

The much more active approach the fund manager is adopting towards its investments - witness the activity at Marley and Mirror - has prompted market men to pay more attention to P&D's share deals. Could the increase at Novara, where the shares have come down from 163p, herald P&D action, some wonder.



GILTS: 117.04 +0.27

SHARES OF Allied Carpets, the victim of acute trading problems and failed takeover bids, bumped along at a 30p low.

The market is becoming increasingly anxious about the retailer's trading performance.

Henderson Crosthwaite has cut its profits estimate from pounds 9m to pounds 3.5m for this year and from pounds 12.5m to pounds 8m next.

Last year Allied Carpets rolled out pounds 11.2m. Two years ago the shares were riding at 320p.

STYLE HOLDINGS, a trendy menswear chain, seems to be avoiding the retail gloom.

Profits last year were pounds 1.98m and stockbroker Teather & Greenwood expects modest headway to pounds 2m this year with pounds 2.7m in sight for the following year.

Analyst Rowan Morgan believes Style's 20-strong Envy chain will be expanded to 60. The shares are 121.5p. The niche retailer is, he says, clearly "outperforming" the retail sector.