Market Report: Drinks sector puts some fizz into Footsie

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THE DRINKS sector led a much-needed rally in share prices yesterday, with favourable news from several fronts.

Overall, winners outnumbered losers by three to one in the FT-SE 100 share index. Aided by a strong opening on Wall Street, the market closed on the day's highest note.

Although there was some early apprehension about the latest quarterly findings by the Confederation of British Industry, it soon became apparent that the market had taken full account of the extensively leaked figures.

The index, a few notches higher before the CBI released its survey, managed to reclaim ground above one of the chartists' main benchmarks of 2,350 with a 25.4-point advance to 2,373.4.

Drinks companies, which make up a sizeable chunk of the index, did well. Whitbread's annual meeting was told that beer sales, sharply down last year, had picked up and that pubs were performing well.

Whitbread gained 8p to 418p, helping to accelerate the recent revival in Bass, up 16p to 541p. Scottish & Newcastle added 9p to 431p.

Sentiment in Bass was also perked up by the conditions placed on the Allied-Lyons brewing venture with Carlsberg. Allied fell sharply on the MMC's announcement, but recovered to close just 3p off at 602p as it became clear the deal would still go ahead.

The robust stance by Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, on EC minimum excise rates bolstered Guinness, the UK's leading Scotch exporter.

The Scotch Whisky Association described the minimum excise tax rate of 550 ecus per hectolitre (pounds 1.10p a bottle) as the 'best that was likely to emerge in the circumstances'.

Guinness, owner of United Distillers, spurted 21p to 534p, a rise on its own worth 2.6 index points. Grand Metropolitan, also heavily involved in spirits through IDV, firmed 1p to 415p.

County NatWest also waded in with some positive thoughts for brewers and distillers, recommending investors to buy Allied-Lyons and Boddington, up 1p to 161p.

The broking house also expects long-term outperformance by Grand Met, S&N, Fuller Smith & Turner and Vaux.

While drinks companies moved higher on real news, many of the day's mark-ups on share prices were largely technical corrections and lacked trading support.

Total market turnover was less than 450 million shares, some 50 million short of the supposed break-even level.

Among the main fallers were PowerGen, down 11p to 245p, and National Power, off 10p to 232p, with the electricity industry's regulator expressing concern about why prices have risen so sharply.

Kwik-Fit had a disastrous session. Panmure Gordon, house broker, sliced a mammoth 33 per cent off its profits projections for 1992/93 to pounds 23m and a quarter from next year's forecast to pounds 30m.

UBS followed suit and BZW, which yesterday downgraded to pounds 32m for the current year, was rumoured to be taking another look at its figures.

Tom Farmer, chairman of Kwik-Fit, said tyre sales were good in January and February in response to government legislation, but had slackened off in following months.

Shares in Kwik-Fit slumped 34p to 125p, a low for this year. Avon Rubber's paper was caught in the slipstream, dropping 22p to 373p.

The downgrading knife was also wielded on Diploma's numbers by Smith New Court, which reduced its pre-tax projection from pounds 16.5m to pounds 15m for this year and more notably from pounds 23m to pounds 18.5m for the next 12 months. Diploma shed 11p to 268p.

On a brighter note, Airtours advanced 11p to 231p on talk that the company was reducing its exposure to Euro Disney, which last week warned that it was heading for a first-year loss. Euro Disney remained in the doldrums, losing a further 8p to 965p.

Reuters was better, moving back above pounds 10 with a 42p jump to pounds 10.27. United Newspapers followed suit, rising 16p to 392p. Lord Stevens, the company's chairman, is stepping down from Invesco MIM to concentrate on his main business activities.

Tate & Lyle was a late faller, losing 9p to 304p on talk of a Hoare Govett downgrading.

Forte, down 1p to 151p, continued to lose friends, with Paribas and Kleinwort Benson turning negative.

Tomkins fell 12p in early dealings as rumours that the company was lining up a big acquisition did the rounds. The price later recovered some poise, closing only 4p off at 441p.

Share prices had a better session yesterday, although trading volumes were again subdued with only 446 million shares changing hands. The FT-SE 100 share index climbed 25.4 points to 2,373.4, helped along in late afternoon trading by a strong opening on Wall Street. The narrower FT 30 index rose 18.6 points to 1,785.6.

Expect news that Capita Group, the specialist in information technology, has secured a large contract from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Capita yesterday announced interim profits up from pounds 1.38m to pounds 1.77m, and lifted the half-year dividend from 1.8p to 2.1p. The shares, which initially dipped on the results, recovered to close 1p better at 373p.

Shares in McCarthy & Stone, the retirement homes company, could catch the eye today following a late announcement yesterday of the departure of two executive directors. Harry Harrison and Kevin Holland have left amicably to pursue other business interests, and will be compensated for loss of office. McCarthy, down 1p to 35p, lost nearly pounds 7m in the half-year to February.

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