Market Report: Cable and Wireless gets a boost from East and West

BELLS are ringing for telecoms shares in belated response to the dollars 60bn US communications link- up. Cable and Wireless led the advance, climbing 26p to 953p, a new peak. It enjoyed, however, advantages not bestowed on other telecommunications groups.

One was the continuing strength of the Hong Kong share market, which has hit new peaks with almost monotonous regularity. Judging from yesterday's late performance of colony shares traded in London it should continue to advance, with the Hang Seng index signalled to gain a further 200 points overnight.

C&W, of course, controls the quoted Hongkong Telecom. Its progress in the Hong Kong share- buying spree has dramatically strengthened the British group's balance sheet.

But C&W has also indulged in a share marketing exercise that has been well received. In June it announced it intended to split its shares, thereby improving marketability. At that time the shares were about 770p. The split occurs at the end of this month. Perhaps another share bonus will soon have to be considered.

The group's involvement with the Canadian BCE telecommunications giant was also good for the shares following the Bell Atlantic- Tele-Communications deal. In November BCE paid pounds 480m for a 20 per cent interest in C&W's Mercury communications group.

The increased cellular competition in this country, highlighted by Cable's launch of the one-2-one system, is now seen as positive, with earlier worries of squeezed margins pushed into the background.

Consequently, the US excitement pushed BT, still basking in the reflection of a successful Cellnet mobile telephone presentation, up 6.5p to 447p, and Vodafone put on 10.5p to 551p.

The Securicor trio, minority shareholders in Cellnet, were also in demand.

The rest of the stock market spent much of the session looking decidedly neglected, with investors unsettled by indications that the economic recovery could be faltering. But the hope that the Government would move to cut interest rates to keep the revival on course, together with unexpected strength in New York, combined to produce a 5.4-point gain to 3,086.3 at the close.

The Hong Kong excitement was also good for HSBC, the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation embracing Midland Bank. HSBC jumped 21p to 746p. Standard Chartered, also responding to Hong Kong influences, gained 9p to 1,014p.

BAT Industries improved 10p to 468p. The progress stemmed from a more relaxed attitude to pressure from price cuts on brands. The US group Procter & Gamble, which has indulged in price-cutting, is expected to produce a record first-quarter result.

And a leading US investment house is said to have turned bullish on Philip Morris, which had undermined BAT shares by cutting prices of its leading cigarette brands in the highly competitive US tobacco market.

Indications from the US suggest that tobacco sales recovered in September, with BAT's Brown & Williamson making up some lost ground. The reappearance of brand values was a contributory factor in an 18p gain to 1,094p by Unilever.

Racal Electronics fell 8p to 207p as some read its reorganisation as a profit warning. Thorn EMI dropped 14p to 906p. On top of the controversy over its Rent-a- Center operation and the US probe into compact disc prices came a 2.6 million share placing by Warburg.

Thorn said the seller was not one of its leading shareholders. The stock was placed with institutions at 890p. Warburg was reputed to have paid 883p.

Tarmac's 23.3 million rights rump was placed by Cazenove and Warburg at 138p. The rights attracted an 87.3 per cent take-up.

The emergence of a milk price war, with Tesco cutting prices, left Northern Foods down 10p at 247p and Unigate off 11p at 379p.

But the price shot did nothing for supermarket shares with Asda, Argyll, J Sainsbury and Tesco giving further ground. Asda was down 2.25p to 53.25p. Its continuing decline puts in doubt its ability to retain its recently reclaimed FT-SE 100 index membership.

The newcomer Parkdean, which runs holiday centres, traded at 128p against a 120p sale level. Flextech gained 8p to 162p on the Jim Slater recommendation in the Independent.

Pittencrieff jumped 21p to 366p. The US telecommunications excitement lifted the shares of its US mobile telephone offshoot and estimates are flying around that the cash-rich group, which still has oil interests, could have an asset value nudging 500p.

Princedale, the marketing services group, held at 30p. Kleinwort Benson likes the shares following the takeover of the industrial operation of Hillsdown Holdings. It expects profits to jump to pounds 725,000 this year, with pounds 1.7m likely in the following year.

The FT-SE 100 index recovered from early falls to close 5.4 points higher at 3,086.3, but the FT-SE 250 index lost 3.9 to 3,464.4. Turnover was 618.2 million with 28,008 bargains. The account ends today with settlement on 25 October. Gilts gave ground.

The convenience retailer M&W hit a new peak, up 3p to 143p, as most other food retailers remained under pressure. The shares were 75p earlier this year. There is talk of a bid. The rumoured predator is Watson & Philip, the ambitious stores group, embracing the Circle K chain. W&P has reduced its wholesaling operation to increase its retailing strength. Its shares held at 301p.

Flagstone Investments has made a quiet return; the shares rose 0.25p to 1.75p yesterday. The shell company last month acquired the Needles leisure operation in the Isle of Wight. More deals are expected soon. Next moves could involve the company, closely related to the Jersey entrepreneur David Kirch, buying Land's End and John o'Groats from Kirch interests.

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