Market Report: Buyers bet on Ladbroke coming back to casinos

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The Independent Online
SHARES of Ladbroke, which have lagged the field in recent years, cantered 4.5p to 174p as bets were placed that it was about to clinch its return to the high- flying world of London casinos.

The betting-to-hotels group is thought to be in talks to buy three London outlets from Trevor Hemmings, the entrepreneur who runs Scottish & Newcastle's holiday operations.

A casinos move could help stock market sentiment. In the past five years the shares have fallen from 330p to 140p as worries have surfaced about the quality of profits, the property portfolio and debt mountain.

With a new management in place, Ladbroke is being reshaped, including 'kitchen sink' accounting and a dividend cut. It has made no secret of its desire to return to casinos.

Fifteen years ago it was forced out of the business by the Gaming Board for allegedly offering gamblers gifts to lure them from rival casinos.

The Hemmings vehicle, City Clubs, runs three casinos and could command a price of about pounds 50m.

The rest of the market remained under the interest rate whip - the US move came too late to have any impact - with rumbling takeover speculation injecting a little excitement into the proceedings. Turnover was subdued as the rail strike again took its toll.

Unilever continued to create interest as stories of a big US deal - Heinz is still the favourite - circulated. The shares improved 19p to 1,126p.

But Wellcome was elevated to bid pole position as the feeling grew the Wellcome Trust could be near to selling its 39.7 per cent shareholding, thereby leaving the way clear for a predator.

The latest Wellcome bid rumour first surfaced in New York. It was suggested the trust must be tempted to repeat its earlier move and sell low-yielding Wellcome shares to get better returns elsewhere.

Wellcome shares have edged higher in the past few months and a gain to 719p, up 27p, lifted them to their highest level this year.

But as the market thrashed about seeking to pinpoint the next takeover victim, the stories grew more and more bizarre. BTR descending on General Electric Co was one; another suggested a Tomkins strike at one of the electricity companies.

GEC, also helped by hopes of Saudia Arabian orders, gained 7.5p to 292p; BTR rose 2p to 376p and Tomkins put on 2.5p to 237p.

United Biscuits, rarely out of the frame when bid rumours swirl, gained 7p to 345p. Unigate ran into selling, off 7p at 383p.

Retailers were firm. Sears, the subject of an 8 million share trade at 119p, fell 1p to 122p. Great Universal Stores was 5p higher at 566p as Nikko repeated its admiration and NatWest Securities made positive noises, although restricting its recommendation to hold.

Disappointment over the level of 'M' car registrations caused a few reverses. GKN gave up 10p to 630p; T&N, the subject of a 2 million trade at 235p, dropped 12p to 240p. Among dealers, Reg Vardy lost 7p to 184p.

HSBC continued to feel the disenchantment over its results, falling another 32p to 717p.

Micro Focus, the computer group which has a large US following, was another to produce disappointing figures, sending the shares crashing 190p to 873p. At one time they were down to 825p. Last year the shares topped pounds 30.

The current was also switched off at Scantronic, the electronic group, after it failed to honour a promise to pay a final dividend and instead produced a placing and open offer. The shares tumbled 6.5p to 20p.

Guinness was again busily traded, with the suggestions of a placing refusing to die down. The shares gained 3p to 461p.

Cable and Wireless was firm on talks of a Chinese cellular telephone deal and BICC displayed some nervousness ahead of today's figures, falling 9p to 412p.

Cussins Property climbed 8p to 118p as a large line of stock, which has apparently hovered for some time, was finally cleared, and Bullers moved to 19.5p as Jim Slater's shareholding reached 4.7 per cent.

MTM, the revitalised chemical group, gained 4p to 78p; James Capel said buy.

On the 4.2 backwater market, Faxcast Broadcast Corporation gained 3p to 60p as Media Technology, an Australian group, was identified as the possible bidder. It already has 29.6 per cent of Faxcast, developing a global fax network.

Anglesey Mining held at 4p as effective control of its dominant Canadian shareholder, IMC, changed hands. The new regime could offer a glimmer of hope that Anglesey's Parys Mountain development could be resumed. The company was floated in 1988 at 70p to establish Britain's biggest metal project this century. But it ran out of cash and the operation was mothballed.

Rebel shareholders at Waterglade International, the property tiddler, have, it is rumoured, mustered nearly 40 per cent support for tomorrow's shareholders' meeting at which they seek board changes. But rumours circulate of a late Waterglade deal involving a link with a bigger property group or, possibly, an association with Jim Slater. The shares are 3.25p.

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