MARKET REPORT; City tackles Manchester United's television ambitions

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The Independent Online
The possibility of Manchester Utd establishing its own television channel is intriguing the stock market.

Stories, which started in Manchester, suggested such a development was near although sources closes to the club felt it unlikely - at least for some years.

The possibility of leading football clubs running their own TV operations has become increasingly likely as the screen sports revolution has emerged.

United, with a much more highly developed commercial operation than any other club, would lead the charge.

At the moment it is standing shoulder to shoulder with other Premiership clubs in supporting the existing BSkyB deal. But Whitehall is examining the Premiership link to see whether it could be judged a cartel.

The 20 Premiership clubs collect pounds 40m to pounds 50m of annual revenue from TV. If United bypassed the big broadcasters it could dramatically increase its take. Last night's clash with Newcastle United would represent a huge pay day. Following the reserves and juniors would also keep the cup overflowing.

United shares, in brisk trading, held at 267p, selling at 11 times last year's earnings. With TV interests they could enjoy a much higher rating.

The rest of the market had a mixed session with the FT-SE 100 index gaining 15.9 points to 3,768.6 after stripping out 5.9 for dividend payments; the supporting index moved to a new peak with an 8.5 gain to 4,244.9.

The bid for Trafalgar House contained no surprises. The shares rose 3.5p to 48.25p against the 50p offer. The preference shares gained 8.5p to 78p compared with the 80p bid.

JD Wetherspoon, the pubs chain, sent ripples of unease through the brewing and pubs sector. It accompanied another set of sparkling figures by adopting a new accounting policy - depreciating its freehold properties. As a relatively new company the exercise was not painful - a pounds 400,000 hit.

For long there has been a debate in the drinks industry about its policy of not depreciating freeholds. Many accountants think it should.

If the Wetherspoon approach was adopted it would have a telling impact on the results of many of the long established groups including Greenalls and Bass.

Alvis, the defence group, advance 6p to 163p fuelled by takeover talk and the benefits which could emerge if the Ministry of Defence's three country armoured vehicle programme makes headway.

Hanson edged forward 1p to 190.5p on US buying. There is talk it is near to making a disposal which would enhance the value of the proposed demerger. One suggestion is the sale of its electricity operation, Eastern, to a US utility.

Yorkshire Electricity, last week's hot tip for a utility bid, rose 9.5p to 803p. The shares were at one time up to 809p. The group is thought to have attracted the attention of at least two US groups but their interest has yet to translate into a bid.

Argos the catalogue stores chain, was the latest to attract buy-back speculation, up 17p to 634p. House of Fraser was again tickled by talk of takeovers and boardroom changes. The shares gained 3p to 180p.

Pharmaceuticals were firm, partly on a London drug conference. Zeneca added 21p to 1,288p as its Tomudex cancer treatment was launched. BTG, deeply involved in the new drug, put on 55p to 1,305p.

Food retailers drew nourishment from the forecast food prices will increase 4 per cent this year. Tesco, despite further profit downgrades, improved 7.5p to 278.5p.

Copyright Promotions, the merchandising group, jumped 22p to 104p as Mosaic Investments exchanged its 22.5 per cent stake for a 0.9 per cent interest in the Trocadero. Mosaic gained 3p to 34p and Trocadero 2p to 53p.

Peel, the property group, shaded 3p to 320p after buying in 367,000 shares at 320p.

A tip sheet mention lifted Wakebourne, the computer group, 4p to 24p. But Memory Corporation, which repairs defective chips, had another wounding session, falling 55p to 170p. The shares have collapsed 225p in six days.

Nynex, the cable group, was 3p firmer at 105p on reports it planned a merger with Telewest, unchanged at 136p.

Canadian Pizza, which has failed to perform during its 30 months of quoted life, edged forward 2p to 72p as ABN Amro Hoare Govett made encouraging noises. Its recent pounds 1.4m profit was not as poor as expected and Hoare thinks it could make pounds 2m this year with pounds 2.5m next. The shares came to market at 200p.

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