Market Report: EMI thrust into the takeover spotlight once again

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EMI, the showbiz group embracing such talents as the Beatles and Spice Girls, is back in the takeover spotlight.

Suggestions that talks with Seagram, the Canadian giant, had broken down came as something of a surprise - there had been no indication the two were planning any alliance.

Still, if nothing else, the Seagram report re-alerted the stock market to EMI's attractions and vulnerability and the possibility of a hostile bid emerging.

Last summer the music group was demerged from what many regarded as its poison pill, the Thorn rental operation. In its stand-alone form it was seen as a certain target for a takeover strike with a host of international groups mentioned as bidders.

Not for the first time, the market signals gave the wrong message. Bid action was conspicuous by its absence; EMI shares started a tuneless descent from a 1,486p peak to 1,097.5p last month. They have since edged forward, largely on the view they were oversold, but with bid stories resurfacing jumped 26p to 1,202.5p.

Seagram, the sprawling drinks group which has moved into entertainment, is not the market's first choice as EMI predator. Disney has that distinction. Philips and News Corporation are also in the frame. There is, in some quarters, a sneaking suspicion a group outside the entertainment industry could look upon EMI as a glamorous capture.

The Canadian group is, however, known to be keen to expand its entertainment interests and has demonstrated its determination to seize what it sees as growth opportunities.

EMI, rather like the Zeneca drugs giant (up 25p at 1,864.5p), has for long been forced to live with recurring bid rumours. Its powerful position in the music industry makes it an obvious target and it is thought to have held talks with a number of possible bidders in recent years.

Alliance & Leicester, the building society-cum-bank, had another adventurous session with trading again dominated by a persistent flow of small deals. Stockbroker Cazenove's auction contribution amounted to a further 52.36 million shares at an average price of 551p. Highest auction bid was 572p for 510,000 shares. If normal volume procedures had been followed the SEAQ turnover figure would have been more than 117 million (instead of the printed 65 million). The shares failed to repeat their opening heady display, ending at 533p, down 33.5p.

The rest of the market continued to ignore the increasingly frenetic election campaign and settled on New York for guidance. With, during London trading, the Dow Jones Average riding high, Footsie claimed a 17.4-point gain to 4,346.1, second-highest since John Major signalled the election was under way.

But it was very much a market of two halves with most supporting shares failing to join the advance.

SmithKline Beecham, up 27p to 933p on results, was the best-performing blue chip and Glaxo Wellcome gained 12p to 1,162.5p with Credit Lyonnais Laing positive. Other drug shares were ruffled by the failure of phase three trials by a little-known US group for a multiple sclerosis treatment. Celltech, which also had to contend with cautious comment, fell 25p to 557.5p and Scotia, despite buying by Apax Partners, 10p to 415p. Shield Diagnostic, where Apax sold most of its stake, was at one time down 45p but rallied to close 20p higher at 517.5p.

Not all the US company news was bearish. A string of encouraging oil figures pushed British Petroleum 12.5p higher to 704p and Shell 14p to 1,065.5p.

Hays, the business support group, gained 15p to 540p on UBS interest and Reckitt & Colman, the household goods group seen by many as a possible Unilever target, put on 16p to 823.5p on BZW support.

On the property pitch MEPC, recently linked with Hammerson, rose 13p to 470p seemingly on its debt restructuring; Chelsfield was 11p higher to 352p on its yearly report. Figures lifted DFS 17p to 549.5p and expectations Laura Ashley will top the pounds 15.5m profit many predict when it reports tomorrow gave the shares a 12p boost to 150.5p.

Cullens, the struggling convenience shops chain, jumped 7p to 23.5p, highest for four years, as it disclosed a bid approached had materialised.

Jarvis, the construction group, gained 14.5p to 264p on talk of an acquisition and Malaya, the up-market car retailer, motored 0.75p ahead to 14.25p. Hepworth, the building materials group, gained 9p to 284.5p with SBC Warburg hanging a 300p target on the shares.