Market Report: Engineers start to emerge from the doghouse

IT LOOKS as though engineers are at last emerging from the stock- market doghouse. The astonishing descent of the aggressive US venture capitalist Kohlberg Kravis Roberts on the staid old TI Group could underline the overlooked value lurking among the metal bashers.

As if on cue IMI, once part of Imperial Chemical Industries, offered a glimmer of hope that the hard-hit sector is beginning to see the end of its long struggle against the rampant pound and recessionary influences. IMI jumped 17p to 252p in often brisk trading with Merril Lynch talking about a 350p target. TI, after Friday's 8 per cent surge, rose a further 7p to 452p.

Riding at 532p last year IMI has been one of the most significant victims of the engineering crash. But profits at the top end of the range, pounds 152.2m against pounds 146.5m, and indications of a trading pick up encouraged investors.

It was enough to lift Senior Engineering 5p to 137p; Weir 5p to 257p, and the new giant of the engineering industry, BTR Siebe, 3p to 278p.

TI has surrendered a 4.9 per cent stake to KKR for pounds 94.4m. The deal is expected to lead to a TI acquisition spree.

With the looming Budget inhibiting trading the market experienced a low- key session with Footsie managing a 3.3 points gain to 6,208.8. It failed to gain any inspiration from New York, which looked decidedly uncertain during London hours.

The market's undercard, not so much influenced by Wall Street, was less subdued with the mid-cap making further headway, up 10.8 at 5,359.2, and the small cap 11.4 higher at 2,315.8.

The day's turnover was inflamed by a chemical reaction in Albright & Wilson. Volume, according to Seaq, was almost 68 million shares as Albemarle, a US group, launched a 130p a share bid (pounds 408m) for the hard -pressed chemical group. The shares jumped 19.5p to 129.5p.

But there is a sneaking suspicion the game is not yet over and Albright will collect further offers. Indeed Phillips & Drew, the fund manager with 24 per cent, seemed decidedly unimpressed by the terms.

As if anticipating shareholder reluctance CSFB moved into the market, picking up Albright shares for the US group. It managed to acquire 18.6 per cent.

Other chemical groups scored from the action. Yule Catto rose 18p to 288p and Hickson International 3.5p to 40p. Brent International, where bid talks have dragged on, rose 1.5p to 111.5p. The latest story is that the group intends to sell one of its divisions for pounds 25m, before a deal with the hovering predator is completed.

Jockeying for position ahead of the Footsie changes provided the blue- chip highlight. Tomkins, the old style conglomerate with the buns to guns tag, seems to be destined for relegation and fell 10p to 210p. Safeway, the supermarket chain, another endangered Footsie species, gave up 5p to 248.5p but Williams, the security group, hardened a shade to 360p.

South African Breweries arrived to confuse the promotion process. It seemed to be determined to qualify for membership of the exclusive club, achieving a 485p close, up 20p from Friday "when issued" price, in its first day of full dealings. The miner Billiton is one South African group that is already a Footsie member and other Springbok companies are also seeking a London listing. This could lead to four South African companies claiming membership of the blue-chip index.

Corporate Services endangered its membership of the mid-cap index, with a 53p slide to 113p after a profits warning. Sage, the computer group involved in investment rounds, put on 42.5p to 2,012.5p.

Reuters, with investment briefings due to start today, improved 18.5p to 902p. National Power, as bid speculation returned, sparked a 10p gain to 494.5p. The under -performing group is seen as ripe for a US assault.

EMI was not in tune to welcome its new, chairman Eric Nicholi; the shares fell 8.75p to 440p. United Biscuits, which has failed to crunch the numbers under Mr Nicoli's stewardship, firmed 2p to 183p.

Scottish Media had an eventful session, ending 34p off at 848p. Upbeat comments failed to have much impact with the market speculating about possible bid action following the Mirror's decision to sell its 18.6 per cent stake.

Widney, the engineer, fell 3p to 37.5p after a special shareholders' meeting was called by shareholders representing nearly 13 per cent of the capital. The "rebels" include SEP Industrial Holdings, unchanged at 13p; they want the board removed.

Expansion at leisure group Queensborough seems to have hit a brick wall. Its plan to buy 46 outlets from City Centre Restaurants to allow it to roll out a new casual catering concept has been hit by its failure to raise cash for the deal. The shares fell 1.5p to 17p with CCR off 2.5p to 56p.

Internet links lifted Methvens, the bookshop chain, 10p to 41.5p. Newcomer Sports Internet had the right associations to close at 88.5p, an astonishing 244 per cent improvement on the placing price. The company, run by former Leeds Sporting chief executive Chris Akers, is looking for sports operations with web links. Trafficmaster motored 202.5p to 1,030p following a traffic information link with German giant Mannesmann. Staffware, a software group, rose 50p to 242.5p after an upbeat trading performance.

The recovering crude oil price produced a little firmness on the oil pitch. Enterprise Oil, partly on hopes of progress in its talks with Lasmo, flared 10.75p to 308.75p but Lasmo lost 5.75p to 127.5p. Tullow Oil, under pressure because of its failure to hit the jackpot in Bangladesh, rallied 4.5p to 56.5p on stories of an Egyptian development.

RJB Mining shaded 0.5p to 61.5p as the possibility of a miners' strike continued to haunt the hard pressed group. Talks about resolving the dispute are due to take place today.

Depressed properties showed signs of life with Tops Estates leading the way with a 20p gain to 117.5p. Netcall jumped 16.5p to 66.5p on reports a bidder is interested in the telecoms group.



GILTS: 113.3 -0.15

CAFE INNS, the pub chain known to be in bid talks, frothed 19p higher to 220.5p as speculation mounted a deal could be near.

Burtonwood, which has had close links with the pub group for a long time and is now concentrating on its retail operations after giving up control of its brewery, is one rumoured suitor.

Another is Century Inns, which is thought to be keen to extend its pubs estate.

TADPOLE TECHNOLOGY slipped 1.75p to 14.5p in brisk trading.

The long time high-tech casualty - the shares were once 307.5p - has enjoyed some support lately because of rumours about a mobile computer it has developed which detects leaks and should make life easier for water companies.

Presentations on the fledgling product, called Java, are said to have been well received and Tadpole may soon be able to produce further details.

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