Market Report: Department stores hit by forecast cuts

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The Independent Online
RETAILERS, already battered and bruised, suffered more punishment as the highly rated analyst Nick Bubb of the SG Securities investment house cut his profit estimates for the three leading department store chains.

House of Fraser was the main casualty of the SG assault, falling 1.5p to a new 51p low with the Bubb forecast reduced from pounds 25.4m to pounds 20m. Last year Fraser, once part of the Fayeds' Harrods empire, produced pounds 29m.

Since it arrived on the stock market four years ago, when shares were sold at 180p, the stores chain has lurched from one crisis to another with new management yet to make much impression.

Mr Bubb, who expects the year's dividend to be cut to 4.2p a share from 5.5p, remains cautious about the shares.

He has reduced his estimates for Allders from pounds 19m to pounds 17.5m; Debenhams has been lowered from pounds 143m to pounds 137m.

Most retail shares have been under intense pressure as the stock market continues to take the view that, despite relatively impressive high street sales figures for last month, the festive season has so far been a huge let-down for the nation's army of shopkeepers.

On Wednesday Henderson Crosthwaite cut its Marks & Spencer profit forecast from pounds 850m to pounds 800m and also reduced estimates for other leading retailers.

Uno, the furniture retailer, is the latest to come under stock market pressure with, it was said, a major institutional shareholder dumping its holding. The shares fell 8.5p to 32.5p; last year they reached 337.5p.

Footsie had another upbeat session, scoring its fourth gain on the trot. It closed 56.7 points higher at 5,741.9, the highest this month. Once again turnover was strong for a period when trading is usually at a low ebb.

This week's display has strengthened hopes that Footsie could be limbering up for its traditional Christmas romp. It has risen 200 points this week, despite the renewed Iraq hostilities and the expected impeachment of President Clinton.

Supporting shares struggled to join in the fun. The mid cap index had to settle for a modest 15.3 gain to 4,711.2 and the small cap a mere 3.9 to 2,016.

The futures and options expiry created some turbulence as a handful of institutions struggled for positions. A cross of 61 million shares in Telewest Communications appeared to stem from the excited trading.

BSkyB, the satellite television station, remained under pressure as more profit downgradings materialised. Merrill Lynch moved to pounds 149m for this year and pounds 181m for next. The shares fell 15.5p to 465p; it appeared that Goldman Sachs finished placing the remainder of the 17 million shares it acquired from BSB Holdings, a company controlled by Granada, Pearson and the French group Pathe.

Reuters was little changed at 612.5p as Schroders put a 745p price target on the shares and Pearson firmed a further 19p to 1,181p.

Emap jumped 60p to 1,100p. The publisher has held City meetings to present its case for paying a seemingly rich pounds 730m for a US group producing such titles as Teen, Hot Rod and Guns & Ammo. It has clearly won supporters; when the deal was announced the shares fell 70p to 970p.

On the transport pitch, Go-Ahead firmed 3.5p to 781p following an analysts' visit.

Jarvis, the construction and transport maintenance group, advanced 50.5p to 592p on Warburg Dillon Read support; the investment house said the shares were worth 780p.

Warburg also described Hays, the business support company, as a long- term buy but such faint praise left the shares off 22p at 464.5p.

The engineer Siebe, at one time up 12p, ended with a 9p plus at 224.5p. Trading was brisk. Stories persist of developments in its agreed bid for BTR, up 1.5p at 118.75p. Suggestions range from the terms being reduced to another bidder barging in, striking at either Siebe or BTR.

Unlikely talk that the Tarmac-Aggregate Industries merger, called off this week, could be on again gave Aggregate a push, up 2.5p to 69.75p.

Countryside Properties, which recently delivered encouraging figures, rose 3.5p to 88.5p. The group met Scottish institutions this week. Profit forecasts have been lifted; Charterhouse Tilney and Merrill Lynch are looking for pounds 17m this year against pounds 14.6m.

Bearing Power, a distributor of power transmission components, was the day's top performer, up 67 per cent to 15p as the management mounted a pounds 6.3m bid. The Friday profit warning was delivered by Rackwood Mining, down 3.25p to 5.5p.

Booker, the beleaguered cash and carry chain, held at 64p as stories circulated that the sale of its wholesale foods operation was imminent. The new chief executive Stuart Rose, ex-Argos, has indicated the division is to be sold.

The group has had a torrid time with two potential bidders, retailers Budgens and Somerfield walking away. The shares slumped from around 120p last month when the latest in a string of profit warnings appeared. They were 479p four years ago.

SEAQ VOLUME: 972.1 million

SEAQ TRADES: 72,175

GILTS INDEX: n/a

MARTIN EDWARDS, chief executive of Manchester United, appears to have taken a fancy to a little publishing group hoping to float on the Ofex share market. He is said to have pumped pounds 50,000 into Citron Press, a business focusing on new fiction and using a print-on-demand technology which reduces the risks associated with publishing new titles. Citron is offering 1.3 million shares at 50p each, raising pounds 650,000.

FILTRONIC, making telecom components and enjoying close relations with the Nokia group, dialled a 23.5p gain to 623.5p. The group, which has just arranged a $170m US debt placing, spent much of the day talking to analysts. The shares, like so many in the telecom industry, have enjoyed a spectacular run. They are now riding at their peak; when the came to market in 1994 they were around 139p.

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