Market report: Clarification on disposals drags BTR down

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The Independent Online
BTR, the conglomerate seeking to become a focused engineer, yesterday finished off what had become an increasingly hesitant share revival.

The next set of results will be highly confusing. Under chief executive Ian Strachan the old takeover marauder has sold a string of businesses. This year it has made disposals worth approaching pounds 3bn and more are promised.

The optimistic way some analysts have interpreted the impact of the sales has caused concern at BTR.

So the group contacted the offending researchers to offer what it regarded as clarification; the result was that some forecasts were pulled back, dragging the shares down 8p to 195p.

The price had moved ahead as the stock market warmed to the streamlining operation and the prospect of some pounds 2bn being returned to shareholders. The shares nudged 210p after diving to 152p in February. Four years ago they topped 400p.

BTR, which has the dubious distinction of producing five profit warnings in just over three years, did not, it would appear, attempt to influence profit forecasts for the engineering business which would seem to be in the pounds 780m region.

A trading update will be produced at the yearly shareholders meeting in May. It is unlikely to be encouraging. When Mr Strachan announced last year's figures, down to pounds 1.1bn from pounds 1.3bn, he warned that the strong pound and Asian turmoil would damage this year's figures.

While BTR attempted to offer guidance to some analysts about the likely disposal influence on its bottom line, other researchers, presumably already on the right track, were examining the group's German operations.

After Monday's bid excitement, equities had a rather subdued time with Footsie giving up a 29.1 points gain to end 11.8 lower at 6,094. At one time it was off 42.7. Supporting shares also paused for breath.

Financials did their best to push Footsie to yet another peak. Bank of Scotland jumped 25p to 793p and Prudential Corporation was also 25p firmer - at 929p. Standard Chartered, Royal Bank of Scotland and Woolwich were others to draw further strength from the Citicorp/Travellers deal.

British Petroleum was at one time 61.5p higher following its positive investment presentation and indicated $2bn share buy-back. The shares ended 16.5p up at 897p.

Allied Domecq, the drinks group, put on 7p to 617p, highest for more than four years, after NatWest Securities pointed out it was nearly a year since the Diageo deal was rolled out. The Beefeater and Teachers group, said NatWest, is approaching the crunch - it has had ample time to review its options and negotiate with potential partners and a statement "must be imminent".

NatWest says if Allied merges its spirits operation with another drinks group and floats off its pub estate then shareholders should "enjoy the consequent upside". Any fudging move through a series of small deals should prompt shareholders to sell "with all speed".

Takeover moves, not financial and not blockbusters, continue to arrive. Thorn, the hard pressed rental group, bounded 60.5p to 221.5p on a mystery approach; Pegasus, the computer group, jumped 52.5p to 347.5p on the appearance of an unidentified overseas suitor (Sage is thought to have offered 470p two years ago) and the Savoy Hotel collected the signalled US bid.

Rumours buzzed. WPP, the advertising group, was said to be talking to CIA, the media buyer up 5p to 223p. MFI, the down-in-the-dumps furniture chain, was at one time up 6p on talk of a Kingfisher strike although the alleged clearance of a share overhang was another influence. The shares ended just 2p firmer at 82.5p. Building materials group Hepworth firmed to 245p with Rugby, a shade lower at 120p, the name in the frame.

There were even hopes that the Glaxo Wellcome deal with SmithKline Beecham could be resurrected. Glaxo rose 20p to 1,790p and SB, with a presentation on Tuesday, improved 19.5p to 809.5p.

Marks & Spencer lost 8p to 587p after cautious noises from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. The investment house trimmed its profits forecasts from pounds 1.2bn to pounds 1.14bn and from pounds 1.35bn to pounds 1.23bn. JJB Sports, figures soon, fell 32.5p to 618.5p. Like other sports retailers JJB has had a good run but reports the sports boom has ended is causing concern. Blacks Leisure, which led the sports retailers, fell 6.5p to 395p.

Imperial, the tobacco group, was puffed up 31p to 458p following its pounds 652m Douwe Egberts Van Nelle buy; Walker Greenbank put on 15.75p to 58.5p on its planned pounds 70m wallcovering sale.