Market Report: Cautious Emap feels the heat

EMAP, the publisher and radio broadcaster, seems to have embarked on a policy of talking down its shares. They fell 61p to 1,220p following what was described as "cautious" investment meetings that prompted some analysts to reduce profit estimates.

The former East Midlands Allied Press had the dubious distinction of heading the list of Footsie fallers; only last week the shares joined the blue-chip index, reflecting their recent strong performance and expansion moves.

The market seemed to get the impression that Emap was playing down expectations for its recent US acquisition and was pointing to the tough competition it faced in the domestic magazine market. Analysts fretted about the launch of Heat, Emap's new listings title. Circulation appeared to be well below expectations and the publication could be a drag on next year's performance.

BT Alex.Brown, the company's stockbroker, was among those to lower profit estimates. Warburg Dillon Read reduced its target price to 1,200p from 1,300p. Morgan Stanley cut its profits forecast to pounds 160m for the year ending today, with a pounds 199m estimate for the following year. It lifted its target price to 1,400p. Last year the group produced profits of pounds 142m.

Mirror, the newspaper publisher in the takeover arena, showed Emap (and others) how to strengthen their shares - get an Internet connection. The price rose 6p to 211p after it revealed it had formed an interactive services division offering free Internet access.

Footsie, for once, ignored a weak New York display, closing with a modest 11.2-point gain to 6,264.1. Supporting indices were firm. Once again trading was busy with the usual end-March considerations, plus the late rush into PEPs, encouraging another day of high share volume.

Hopes of lower interest rates continued to circulate and the market confidently looked forward to another round of corporate activity, with the BP Amoco deal with Atlantic Richfield expected to be announce today as well as Imperial Chemical Industries' pounds 2bn sell-off. But slim hopes that Enterprise Oil will finally tie the knot with Lasmo were dashed after the market closed when their merger talks, to nobody's surprise, were called off.

BP firmed 2p to 1,079p; ICI shaded to 560p; Enterprise rose 14.5p to 367.5p and Lasmo slipped 1.75p to 133.75p.

SmithKline Beecham, reflecting hopes of drugs bid fever, rose 36.5p to 892p; Zeneca, as its mega-merger with Sweden's Astra was about to be sealed, hit a 2,945p peak, up 110p.

Pilkington, the glass group, remained high on the speculative list, gaining 4p (after 8.5p) on talk of an overseas strike.

Centrica, the gas group, fell 4.25p to 109p as Deutsche Morgan Grenfell placed 41 million shares sold by two institutions.

Storehouse, the BhS retail chain, continued to attract support as whispers of a US strike again went the rounds. The shares rose 8.5p to 145p in brisk trading. But Safeway's flirtation with the speculators ended, at least for the time being, with the shares off 9.75p at 244p.

Boots was another to feel an analytical kick. The price fell 28.5p to 892p after Merrill Lynch turned cautious, citing a slowdown in margin growth.

Bid action - fact and fiction - was again evident on the undercard. Stanley Leisure, a shade lower at 297.5p, agreed a 85p-a-share offer for Capital Corporation, the casino operator, little changed at 81p. Adscene, the publisher, rose 38.5p to 199p after reporting a bid approach.

Even pubs chain Inn Business, jilted by Enterprise Inns in favour of Century Inns, managed a 3p gain to 69.5p. Waterfall, the snooker group, made another attempt to pot European Leisure, saying it had made a 100p share exchange offer; European, seeking to merge with Allied Leisure, rejected the "indicative" bid. Waterfall was the only one of the trio to move, losing 1.5p to 58p.

Brent International, the chemical group, fell 4.5p to 95.5p as some investors grew tired of waiting for the long running takeover talks to produce a result. There is also a growing suspicion that the negotiations have hit problems and may soon be called off.

Utilitec, an engineering services group, added 4.5p to 24.5p as a management buyout was mooted. Devro, a sausage skin maker, sizzled 19p to 142p on talk of an mbo.

Taylor Nelson Sofres, the information and marketing group, was busily traded on vague talk of corporation action, gaining 1.25p to 138p. Metal Bulletin, which has enjoyed speculative flurries in the past, firmed 75p to 1,625p.

Oriental Restaurants, with six outlets in the City, talked of tough trading and its shares fell 16.5p to 137.5p. Halma, the engineer, lost 2.5p to 96.5p after HSBC made cautious noises. The expected profits gloom at Corporate Services lowered the shares 6.5p to 71p.

AEA Technologies continued to suffer from its warning that profits will be flat, falling a further 33.5p to 348.5p. The shares have been as high as 1,030p in the past 12 months.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.09 billion

SEAQ TRADES: n/a

GILTS INDEX: 113.36 -0.05

MEARS, the maintenance services group, is expected to produce profits of pounds 1.2m this year after lifting last year's figure by 26 per cent to pounds 821,000. Group turnover rose by 25 per cent to pounds 19.5m.

Eaglet Investment Trust, the small company specialist run by Peter Webb, has moved into Mears, picking up a 12 per cent interest in the group, taking the total institutional shareholder representation to around 50 per cent of the capital.

MACRO 4, the software group where new management is in charge, should lift profits in the year to June by around pounds 2m to pounds 26.25m, believes stockbroker Greig Middleton. Its analysts, Judy Stewart and Dominic Wilson, are going for pounds 29m next year.

The company's shares are tightly held, but the analysts believe the group could be tempted to go along the takeover trail and increase its capital by offering shares for acquisitions.

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