Market report: Client poaching rumours lop 12p off Cordiant

IS CORDIANT, the advertising agency, in danger of losing a couple of big clients?

The stock was one of the market's biggest fallers yesterday, shedding over 7 per cent amid talk that two prestigious accounts might soon be poached by a rival.

Dealers were in festive mood ahead of the long Bank Holiday weekend but still found the time to push Cordiant 12p lower at 155.5p.

There was talk of a seller willing to get rid of a large line of stock before the break. The rumoured presence of a big bear triggered whispers of an imminent setback for Cordiant.

Industry gossip suggested that the advertising group, which was spun off from Saatchi & Saatchi two years ago, could soon stop providing PR and media services for two big multinationals.

Several rivals, including Saatchi itself and the sector giant WPP, have poured a lot of resources into winning large international clients and Cordiant could be the first victim of their offensive.

Fears of trading difficulties were a common theme among the fallers yesterday. British Steel was a case in point. The stock lost 7.5p to 132.25p after HSBC increased its forecast for 1999 losses to pounds 200m from pounds 42m. The broker is worried over the near-term outlook for the steel market. The dealing boys are also worried about British Steel's rumoured ambitions to make a pounds 400m-plus acquisition.

The mobile-phone maker Filtronic took another battering, losing 28.5p to 736.5p, on recent downgrades. There were also rumours - hotly denied by Filtronic - that Nokia, the Finnish phone giant, may be willing to sell its near 5 per cent stake.

JJB Sports, down 16p to 314p, completed the trading fears poker, as talk of poor May sales came back to haunt it.

The rest of the market had an incredibly dull day with most big hitters sitting tight ahead of the long holiday weekend.

The FTSE 100 closed 26.7 higher to 6,226.2 after an afternoon rally erased earlier losses. Once again, Wall Street was London's undisputed master. The overnight slump in the Dow - the largest this year - triggered a round of selling after the opening bell. However, when the Dow started the new day with a rebound, the blue-chip index duly followed, ending its five-day losing streak.

The undercard did not join the party, and the Mid Cap ended 28.6 lower at 5,639.1, while the Small Cap was 5 down at 2546.7.

The thin volume encouraged some funny movements. Pearson, the media group, was hit by a bout of late selling on the automated order book and finished 34p down to 1,190p. The culprit was probably a trader eager to square his books before going away on holiday.

Rival Reed International shed 15p to 455p despite attempts to deny reports in the Dutch press of an imminent profit warning.

The fashion retailer Next was also bouncing around. The stock was marked lower in the morning amid fears that it might drop out of the FTSE 100 next month.

The whispers focused the mind of tracker funds which bought shares in the afternoon leaving Next 26p better at 725.5p. Talk of an upgrade by a leading broker also helped.

GKN was strong all day on rising optimism on its markets and whispers of large defence contracts wins. However, the car parts and helicopters group jumped to the top of the blue-chip risers only after a series of roguish deals in the last three minutes of trading pushed the stock 51.5p higher to 1,042.5p.

Rolls-Royce was right behind, rising 12.5p to 262.5p after a after winning a $115m contract to supply jet engines. The chief executive, John Rose and director Paul Heiden gave the stock an additional boost by increasing their stakes.

The Legal & General bid rumours refuse to go away. L&G surged 6p to 182.25p in large turnover. Potential bidder Lloyds TSB was 9.5p down to 825p, but another possible predator, Allied Zurich, moved 29.5p up to 796p.

Royal Bank of Scotland gained the financials' wooden spoon after falling 41p to 1,326p on profit-taking. Whispers of a merger with Barclays, 16p higher at 1,893p, are still doing the rounds.

Sun Life & Provincial fell 13p to 471.75p after selling pounds 300m worth of equities that were held by the recently-acquired Guardian Royal Exchange. The money has been put in cash and bonds.

Railtrack was the worst-performing blue-chip, losing 43p to 1,279p on worries of a tightening regulatory noose. Broker Charterhouse trimmed its forecasts.

Storehouse was the star of the midcap. The BhS and Mothercare group jumped 7.5p to 118p on relief at the surprise departure of the chief executive, Keith Edelman.

The chemists' group Alliance Unichem dispensed a 25p rise to 455.5p on talk of a European acquisition spree, while concrete maker RMC put on a solid 33p to 833p after forecasting better-than-expected interims.

AEA Technology surged 9.5p to 322.5p on hopes of good news on its super diesel engine, while Safeway checked out a 5.25p rise to 258.25p as bid speculation returned.

Brewer Greene King frothed 7.5p higher to 645p as the market welcomed its 430p-per-share offer for rival Morland, up 50p to 422.5p. Sector peer Fuller Smith & Turner added 17.5p to 547.5p after record earnings.

The engineer Widney surged 4.5p to 39.5p after announcing "advanced" bid talks and good interims. The Lara Croft videogames producer Eidos scored a 215p win to 2,080p after Goldman Sachs upgraded its forecast and slapped a 2,800p price target.

The daily dose of profit warnings was administered by JWE Telecom, down 41p to an all-time low of 101p. Internet group Dialog shed 13p to 91p after poor interims and worries about its debt burden.

SEAQ VOLUME: 886.8

SEAQ TRADES: 70,361

GILTS INDEX: N/A Northacre, an AIM-listed property developer, soared 18.5p to 100p yesterday on whispers of a tie-up with a big real estate group. Insiders believe the residential propertyspecialist is about to link up with a larger rival, possibly Grosvenor Estates, to develop a series of prime London properties. Some believe Northacre, which rejoined AIM this week, might be invited to redevelop some of Grosvenor's listed buildings.

The broadcasting tiddler Focal Point Media debuted on the junior Ofex market with a 3.5p rise to 23.5p. The company provides TV software and programmes for conferences and conventions. Its biggest contract is to supply Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre with its in-house television service. More contracts with other large conference centres are expected soon.

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