Market Report: Cookson surges ahead on stories of bid action

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The Independent Online
Cookson, the industrial materials group which has under-performed the stock market for nearly two years, enjoyed a cracking run as stories swirled of bid action and disposals.

The shares, in brisk trading, followed Monday's late 6p gain with a 28p rush to 217p. Last year they hit 262.5p and were riding at 327p in 1996 before doubts set in about the group's direction.

An overseas predator was the popular guess but there was also talk of a major sale, possibly part of the group's extensive ceramics operation.

Cookson has been slowly streamlining, with a number of acquisitions and disposals. Its last deal was the pounds 12.4m sale of a US swimming pool products distributor.

In December Richard Oster quit as chairman with a pounds 2.9m payoff after just two months in the job. A disagreement over the pace of the rationalisation process was cited as the reason. Mr Oster had previously been chief executive and was responsible for saving the group from disaster after he arrived in 1991.

Most equities experienced a quiet, uneventful session. Footsie, despite losing some of its sparkle when a late sell programme hit the market, ended 12.4 points higher at 5,613.3, drawing encouragement from a Dow Jones average forging ahead during London hours. The supporting indices reached new highs.

Dixons was the best performing blue chip, gaining 30p to 539.5p. The British Retail Consortium survey suggesting television and video sales had been strong after disappointing Christmas trading was the spur. Dixons, when warning about poor festive sales, said profits would be below expectations; the shares touched 720p in October. The consortium's comments also helped Kingfisher to close above 1,000p for the first time, up 21p at 1.016p.

Orange, on the expected sale of British Aerospace's 21 per cent stake, improved 15.5p to 335.5p, another peak. British Steel put on 3.5p to 141.5p as SBC Warburg drew attention to high-yielding shares. Rolls-Royce fell 5.5p to 199p with NatWest Securities offering sell advice. RioTinto lost 24p to 805p on the copper weakness and strike threats.

BOC, the chemical group, slumped 66p to 905p following interim results. Imperial Chemical Industries, supported by US investors possibly disillusioned with BOC, rose 30p to 1,013p.

Disappointing British Petroleum figures left the shares 21p off at 793p.

The P&O shipping group steamed 16p higher to 735p after Panmure Gordon suggested an 880p target.

Queens Moat Houses added 1p to 16.25p as NatWest Securities drew attention to the once high flying hotel chain, slowly emerging from disasters which almost overwhelmed it five years ago.

NatWest acknowledges that QMH is unlikely to pay any dividends for some years but rates the shares a speculative buy. It says they may not "meet every institution's investment grade but for special situation funds QMH represents an outstanding opportunity as a geared play on continued hotel asset price inflation". The shares are described as "an extremely interesting speculative buy".

IT shares paused for breath after their high storming display. Granville Davies, in a detailed review of the new sector, says its shares are still undervalued with potential growth not reflected in ratings. It reports that the near 25 per cent progress scored by the IT index is almost entirely due to gains achieved by larger groups.

"The conclusion is that many smaller but potentially more rapidly growing IT stocks have been overlooked by the investment community". Misys, the computer group thought to be ready for Footsie membership, fell 77.5p to 2,240p; it touched 2,502.5p last week.

PizzaExpress, on Monday's results, rose 47.5p to 769p, and First Leisure, prompted by reports of restaurant expansion and sale of its bingo division put on 10.5p to 313p. Body Shop International, on the departure of its top US executive, lost 7.5p to 115.5p; Biocompatibles International's woes continued with a 35p fall to 180p; Powderject rose 9.5p to a 232p peak after obtaining US clearance to start tests using needle-less injections to administer a local anaesthetic produced by Chiroscience, up 2p to 261.5p.

Chieftain, a building materials group, hardened 14p to 119.5p after putting itself up for sale. Intelligent Environments, a software company, improved 9.5p to 34p following reduced losses and an intriguing consultancy link with BT.

Freeport Leisure, running factory shopping villages, advanced 15p to 246.5p, a peak. Interim results, due next week, may be accompanied by indications of further shopping area developments. Dalkeith Inns, a cash shell, moved to 28.5p, against the 25.5p bid from its controlling shareholders.

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