Market Report: Bristol Scotts surges amid shareholder battle

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS Berry, who recently played an instrumental role in scuppering Postel's move for Greycoat, has become embroiled in another shareholder battle at Bristol Scotts, the leisure company run by the Kerman family.

Bristol's shares surged 19p to 93p yesterday after the company announced it had received a requisition for an extraordinary meeting from dissident shareholders.

The dissidents propose that Ian Stevens, who runs Bristol's pub division, and Sir Ian Rankin, elder brother of Sir Alick Rankin, chairman of Scottish & Newcastle, be elected to the board.

Sir Ian, who bought 500,000 shares at 52p in June, said: 'I have asked the Kermans to resign.'

He added that the registration of nearly 800,000 shares bought for 65p earlier this month by Mr Berry, son of Lord Hartwell, had been blocked by Nicholas Kerman, a director of Bristol.

The shares were originally owned by Mr Kerman, who sold them to Claude Hug, a private investor.

The registration block is believed to have been imposed because Mr Kerman says he had an option to buy back the shares sold to Mr Hug. Mr Kerman was unavailable for comment.

Dealers said the option explained yesterday's share price leap. If Mr Kerman does have an option over the shares then Mr Hug may have to honour the agreement by buying shares in the market. The dissidents claim they hold sway over 50 per cent of the votes, including the shares bought by Mr Berry.

Bristol's colourful dust-up enlivened a session otherwise preoccupied with a deluge of company results, profit warnings, and economic statistics.

More than 700 million shares went through the books. Nearly 60 per cent of the turnover was in non-Footsie stocks.

Ouside the Footsie results arena, Lloyds Bank firmed 10p to 580p amid expectations that the value of its Mexican debt may rise after the North American Free Trade Agreement was approved by the US Congress.

Hugh Pye, an analyst with BZW, believes Nafta is good news because Lloyds, unlike most UK banks, chose to keep and manage its Latin American debt, including a big exposure to Mexico.

The value of Mexican debt has been rising steadily and is now worth 83 cents to the dollar, but there are suggestions it could rise to a full 100 cents as the country benefits from inclusion in the world's largest free-trading zone.

That would enable Lloyds to continue to 'write back' the large bad debt provisions it took in the 1980s and turn them into profits.

Overall, the market was keen to push ahead and the gainers in the FT-SE 100 index slightly outweighed the fallers.

Shares raced ahead in early trading, led forward by the decline in unemployment to a 12-month low of 2.86 million. However, a soft opening on Wall Street undermined Footsie's early 18.3-point advance, and the index closed 5.5 better at 3,125.5.

Some dealers said that with most of the economic news out of the way, share prices were likely to consolidate ahead of the Budget on Tuesday week.

Building and property stocks made progress on fresh hopes of a cut in interest rates. Barratt Developments gained 3p to 175p, Bryant added 1p to 143p, and Crest Nicholson rose 2p to 95p.

Improvements in those sectors helped the FT-SE 250 finish the day 15.8 points higher at 3,452.5.

One of the biggest advances was recorded by Whitbread, ahead 19p to 519p on interim profits at the top end of analysts' expectations.

British Gas dipped 3.5p to 325p on bigger than expected seasonal third-quarter losses.

The other big gun to report figures, Cable and Wireless, was subjected to some profit-taking and dipped 2p to 471p.

Some 5.5 million C&W were traded, of which a parcel of 470,000 went through late as part of a programme trade covering several Footsie stocks.

There was an agency cross at 198p of 150,000 shares in Racal. Total turnover in Racal, which fell 14p to 198p, was 6.5 million.

More than 4.5 million were traded in Union Discount. Newton Investment Management placed all of its 2.3 million shares, 12.34 per cent, through the market at 168p. Union firmed 1p to 170p.

Betterware, which has recently been chased lower by investors concerned about future profits growth, had a slightly more encouraging day. The tightly traded shares firmed 3p to 148p.

A profits warning unhinged Amstrad, which lost 20 per cent of its value as the shares dropped 10.75p to 45p. Dixons, the main retailer for Amstrad's electronic goods, lost 7p to 270p.

Tiphook remained under a cloud, and lost a further 11p at one stage before a late rally cut the deficit to 4p at 44p.

The former Bristol Channel Ship Repairers returned from long suspension after the reverse takeover by Ugland. The renamed company ended the day at 108p.

Share prices failed to hold early advances, with trading unsettled in mid-afternoon by a soft opening on Wall Street. The FT-SE 100 index, up 18.3 points at one time, closed 5.5 higher at 3,125.5. The account ends 26 November and settlement is on 6 December.

Investors who take their cue from directors' dealings will probably have taken note yesterday of Tadpole Technology. Five directors have sold 390,000 shares, equal to more than 4 per cent of the company. The computer software company that came to the market last December at 65p closed 10p off at 264p. The shares have been as high as 349p.

Wentworth International Group is in a fix and may have to cancel its quotation on the USM. The problem has been caused by small shareholders spurning its rights issue, leaving Monceau Investments and Banque Indosuez to pick up the pieces. That would give them control over 91 per cent, and be in breach of the USM's quotation rules. Wentworth stands at 1.5p.